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  • Rapt in Awe

    My Journey through the Astronomical Year

    Think of this as a "companion text" to this, the main web site. Not required reading, butI hope you'll find it interesting and helpful.

A dreamy, planet-filled, midsummer night!

The sky will be filled with planets about 45 minutes before daybreak - BUT, only Jupiter and Venus will be easy to spot witht he naked eye. You might spot Mars, but binoculars will help and they certainly are needed for the rest. Neptune will be right next to Jupiter looking like a faint star, Uranus will be brighter, but refer to the chart for it. Mercury? You'll need ideal conditions to see it and that slither of Moon.

The sky will be filled with planets about 45 minutes before daybreak on the morning of June 21 - BUT, only Jupiter and Venus will be easy to spot with the naked eye. You might spot Mars, but binoculars will help and they certainly are needed for the rest. Neptune will be right next to Jupiter looking like a faint star, Uranus will be brighter, but refer to the chart for it. Mercury? You'll need ideal conditions to see it and that slither of Moon. (Click for much larger view.) This an all other charts here are screen shots taken from Starry Nights Pro software and slightly modified for this use.

June 20-21, 2009 – Midsummer Night –  is the shortest night of the year, but it is chock full of planets – all of them! ( Yes, we had a similar opportunity in May, and that was great fun – but it gets a tad better in June and there’s something a bit magical about Midsummer Night!)

In the hours before midnight you can enjoy Saturn in the western sky and as it sets shortly after midnight,  you can enjoy Jupiter and Neptune rising in the East. Pluto is there as well, low in the west, but it is so faint you’ll need a large telescope and lots of patience to track it down. Uranus will be the next one up, rising about 1 am, but not becoming easy to see for another hour or two. By 3 am Mars and Venus will have broken the eastern horizon. I don’t know how easy it will be to spot Mars with the naked eye. It will be just one degree from brilliant Venus and although it will be first magnitude, that will still be five magnitudes dimmer than Venus! In binoculars, however, it should be easy.

The difficult catch will be Mercury. My best guess is about 45 minutes before local sunrise (about 4:25 am for me in Westport, MA) it may be high enough if there are no clouds on the eastern horizon and the sky may still be dark enough. The thinnest of crescent moons may be a guide, assuming you can see it! Mercury will be about six degrees below the Moon and to the right – close enough to fit with the Moon in a wide-field binocular view, though typical 10X50 binoculars will not fit the two in the same field. Still, at zero magnitude it will be bright. Both of these are north of east – Mercury at about azimuth 67° and the Moon at  about azimuth 62°.

Frankly, I’ll consider myself very lucky if I spot Mercury – and I probably won’t have the patience to hunt for Pluto. If the skies are clear enough to see it, there will be too many other things to catch my interest, particularly near the southern Milky Way. But it would be kind of fun to pull an all-nighter – especially since this is the shortest night of the year – and to see all of what are currently called “planets” on the same evening. So if the weather is cooperative, I’ll probably start observing about 11 pm EDT.  And I’ll do my observing at a favorite location near the ocean where I have a great view of the eastern horizon – in fact, all horizons!

The charts which follow provide a guide to finding Neptune and Uranus.

Finding Neptune is easy, as long as you remember that at magnitude 8 it is much fainter than 5th magnitude Mu Capricorni, or the moons of Jupiter, all of which will be visible in a small telescope, or good binoculars held steady.

Finding Neptune is easy, as long as you remember that at magnitude 8 it is much fainter than 5th magnitude Mu Capricorni, or even the four brightest moons of Jupiter, all of which will be visible in a small telescope, or good binoculars held steady. Jupiter itself is second only to Venus in brightness at magnitude -4.6 (Click for much larger view.)

Uranus is a challenge to find with binoculars, though at magnitude 6 it will appear reasonably bright. Theproblem is, it's in a section of the sky without bright, maked eye guide stars. I dentify thegeneral search region by looking at the large chart at the start of this post. Then use this chart and search for the rectangle of 5th magnitude stars. Find themand it's a short star-hop up to Uranus.

Uranus is a challenge to find with binoculars, though at magnitude 6 it will appear reasonably bright. The problem is, it's in a section of the sky without bright, naked-eye guide stars. It does fit on aline between Jupiter and Venus and is about 27 degrees from Jupiter on that line. Identify the general search region by looking at the large chart at the start of this post. Then use this chart and search for the rectangle of 5th magnitude stars. Find them and it's a short star-hop up to Uranus which will appear to be the twin of the star closest to it. (Click for a much larger image.)

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