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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.

Events for June 2011: Saturn and Porrima, Morning planets, and a total lunar eclipse for the rest of the world

Let’s start with that total lunar eclipse June 15 – it totally misses North America. But it should be quite a sight in much of the world. Take a look at this map. If you’re in the white area – or even the grey – then go to this site for more information. Otherwise – well, it still is an interesting month with Saturn running up to steal a kiss from Porrima, the morning planets continuing their show, and Mercury peeking above the western horizon late in the month.

First, here’s the lunar eclipse map.

Are you in the dark? Then you miss the eclipse. But much of the world should see all - or some phase of it this month.

Saturn and Porrima

Saturn and the beautiful double star Porrima – you need a telescope to see it as double –  continue the dance they started in May. Here’s a simulation over the  two months, prepared with Starry Nights Pro software.

Saturn is easy enough to find. Wait until an hour and a half after sunset, then look for it high in the south-southwest about 15 degrees from Spica. (Saturn will be just a tad brighter and should look yellow compared to Spica’s blue.) For the naked eye observer, watching Saturn and Porrima during June of 2011 provides a terrific opportunity to see a planet in retrograde motion – then pause,  then swing back in its normal eastward path against the background stars.  For the small telescope user it’s even better.  Porrima is a stunning double star when seen in a back-yard telescope – and Saturn, with its rings, the most awesome planet in a small telescope. During early June the pair come amazingly close – so close they’ll both fit in the same telescopic field of view in the first part of the month.  Here’s where to find them and how they will look during the first week of the month.

Click image for much larger version. Insert shows how Staurn and Porrima will look in a small telescope with a one-degree field of view. To split Porrima you will probably need a telescope with at least an 80mm objective and use 180X or more. The two will start drawing apart after about 10 days, but will still be very close at the end of the month.

You can read all about Porrima and how to split it in my friend John Nanson’s post on the star-splitting blog we share. Check it out here!

Summer Solstice and Mars

Much of the planet show is in the morning sky, as described last month. There you will find Jupiter with its retinue of four Gallilean Moons rising a bit earlier each day.  Uranus and Neptune are in the same genral vicinity, only higher. Mercury abandons the morning sky and puts in  a difficult ( for northern hemisphere observers) appearance in the evening sky near the end of the month. Mars is a bit more fun. At the start of the month it is already well past Venus and on a course that eventually takes it reasonably close to the Pleiades. As the chart shows, you should be able to fit both in the same binocular field of view by the time of the Summer Solstice.

Click image for a much larger view. (Prepared from Starry nights Pro screen shot.)

Near the end of the month (June 28, 29) the waning crescent Moon will join Mars and the Pleiades in the eastern morning sky.

Meanwhile, in the west . . .

In the last three or four days of the month you may catch Mercury, about half an hour after Sunset, moving up to join Castor and Pollux. Binoculars may be needed since they are all low and the twilight will be bright – but check it out. On the 30th they are all in a row and you can nearly cover all three  by making a fist and extending your arm.  They are all pretty close to the same brightness as well.

Click image for a larger version. (Prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

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