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June Star Map

Printable quality Star Map Click Here

Instructions for using the star map Click Here

It's a June Jubilee of Planets!

The nights are warmer but there's a price to pay. It's a late night affair, and if you're an aging stargazer like me make sure to get that afternoon nap and take in strategic amounts of caffeine. Good stargazing can't really begin until after 10pm, but the show is worth losing a little sleep for!

Once darkness finally sets in, the three brightest "stars" you see are actually planets; Jupiter in the west, and Mars and Saturn in a celestial hug in the low southeast sky.

Jupiter has been part of the night sky since early in the year, and even though it's over 100 million miles farther away than it was in January it's still a fine target for even small telescopes. You can easily resolve the disk of the 88,000-mile wide planet, and you may be able to see cloud bands of Jupiter. You may even see Jupiter's famous Red Spot, a huge storm about three times the diameter of Earth that's been raging for at least hundreds of years. As of late it's reddish color has become brighter and easier to spot. It's not always visible because Jupiter spins on its axis once every nine hours and 50 minutes and the side with the Red Spot is not always facing Earth. Most telescopes give you an inverse image so the Red Spot, if it's available, will appear on the upper half of the planet.

For sure you'll see up to four of Jupiter's largest moons that resemble tiny stars on either side of Jupiter. They're constantly changing their position relative to the planet as they orbit around Jupiter in periods of two to seventeen days. Some nights one or more of Jupiter's moons will be absent since they could be behind the big planet or camouflaged in front of it.

Meanwhile, Mars and Saturn are rising in the low southeastern sky in the early evening. Mars is the brighter of the two as they're both very close to their minimum distances from Earth for 2016. If you want to get a decent view of them through your telescope it's best to wait until about midnight if you can. By then both planets will be a little higher in the sky, and you won't have to visually plow through as much of Earth's blurring atmosphere as you do when they're close to the horizon.

Mars is as close as it's been to Earth in eleven years, but it's still difficult to see many surface features like valleys and mountains, even with larger telescopes. You may see a white-ish tinge on the upper half of Mars; that's one of its polar caps.

Saturn is much more fun to look at through any telescope. You'll love what you see. If it's your first time you'll never forget it. The ringed wonder of our solar system is less than twenty degrees to the lower left of Mars. You should easily see its ring system that spans more than 130,000 miles in diameter. If the air is clear enough, you might also see many of Saturn's moons that resemble tiny stars. One of the moons, Titan, is a lot brighter than the rest and is actually larger than the planet Mercury.

As far as actual stars in June the transition in the night sky is complete. The stars and constellations of winter are gone from our skies, all setting well before the sun. Leo the Lion, one of the major spring constellations, is still easy to see just to the upper right of Jupiter. The chest and head of Leo appear as a right leaning backward question mark. Leo's brightest star Regulus marks the heart of the lion and is the period at the bottom of the question mark.

If you lie back on that reclining lawn chair and look straight overhead toward the zenith you'll easily see the nearly upside-down Big Dipper, and not far from the end of the Dipper's handle you'll see a bright orange star. That's Arcturus, the brightest star in the night sky this month. It's about 36 light years or 208 trillion miles away (give or take a billion miles) and is at least twenty five times the diameter of our sun. Arcturus also serves as the brightest star in the constellation Bootes, the hunting farmer, that actually looks more like a giant nocturnal kite with Arcturus at the tail of the kite.

Over in the eastern skies the stars of summer are making their initial evening appearance. Leading the way is Vega, the brightest star of Lyra the Harp. A little to the lower left of Vega is Deneb, the brightest shiner in Cygnus the Swan, otherwise known as the "Northern Cross" rising sideways in the east. Deneb lies at the head of the cross and is at least 1500 light years away from Earth, but could be as far as 3000 light years away.

Get your rest and enjoy the late night show that is June stargazing.

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