The Night Sky in June

Want to know what’s up in the sky tonight? Our night sky chart will provide you with the information you need to locate the brightest planets, stars and deep-sky objects …

The night sky looking South in mid June at 2300.

This month’s chart shows the night sky looking South in mid June at 2300. (click on image for larger view

The Stars and Constellations

The trick to learning star identification is …

1. Take is slow and easy. Try to learn only a few stars at a time – certainly no more than a dozen in one night, otherwise you’ll feel overwhelmed.

2. Learn the brightest stars first. Not only do these really stand out but you can see them even when the sky conditions are less than perfect (such as when you are in a city or when the Moon is full).

The summer months are a great time to learn and identify at least the brightest stars. Use the night sky maps above (why not download one and print it out?) to help you.

There are three particularly bright stars in the South eastern sky during the early Summer months – Vega, Deneb and Altair. Vega, a beautiful blue-white star, is located in the constellation of Lyra. Deneb can be found in Cygnus (the Swan), otherwise known as the Northern Cross. Just South of this lies the huge nebulous complex NGC 7000, the North American nebula – so-called because its shape has an uncanny resemblance to the country. Altair is the brightest star to be found in Aquila (the Eagle). This constellation is a superb guide for discovering some of the brightest star clusters, and portions of the Summer Milky Way towards Sagittarius and the centre of our own Galaxy.

Hercules – this month’s sky highlight

Hercules, an ancient constellation, contains the well known trapezoidal asterism ‘The Keystone’ and the beautiful globular cluster M13. In binoculars M13 looks like a fuzzy star and is one of the more spectacular objects in the sky.

We have to wait until 2330 before Hercules is due South. The centre of the constellation is no less than 70 degrees high in the sky. It’s stars aren’t overly bright, but if you can locate Vega (as described next month, or using the information above) and Arcturus (as described in May’s sky highlight), Hercules is between the two. Look for a series of four stars that resemble a keystone – i.e. the central stone in a archway. Just above halfway in a direct line between the right-hand most stars you will find M13.

The Great Hercules Cluster is one of the sky’s most precious jewels and the finest globular cluster in the northern hemisphere. Visible to the naked eye under dark skies, M13 looks like a fuzzy ball of light in binoculars. A moderate sized telescope and high magnification shows a blazing ball of stars with many resolved members. The Great Hercules Cluster contains about 400000 stars, spread across 140 light years of space. The star density near the cluster’s centre is extremely high, with stars separated by only a few astronomical units. M13 was originally discovered by Edmond Halley, better known for predicting the return of the comet that still bears his name. M13 was selected as a target for one of the first radio messages broadcast to extraterrestrials from the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico. If alien civilizations exist in the Great Hercules Cluster, we won’t receive their reply for 50000 years, as M13 is 25000 light years from Earth.

In history …

On the night of June 24 1881, William Huggins became the first person to photograph the spectrum of a comet. He discovered that it contained cyanogen (CN) – a deadly gas. This knowledge initiated mass hysteria 29 years later when the Earth passed through the tail of Halley’s comet!

On June 30 1908, something exploded over a part of Siberia called Tunguska. It is believed to have been an asteroid or comet that created an air-burst a few miles above the ground. This was caused by the incredible heat that built up during its brief passage through the atmosphere. The force of the blast flattened dense forest for miles.

Valentina Tereshkova, aboard the Vostok 6 spacecraft, became the first woman in space on June 16, 1963

On June 6 1971, Georgi Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev docked with the Salyut space station. Twenty three days later (30 June), after a successful mission in space, all three died during re-entry when their Soyuz 11 spacecraft rapidly lost pressure.

James Christy, of the US Naval Observatory in Flagstaff Arizona, discovered Pluto’s satellite, Charon, on the night of June 2 1978.

Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft from the planet Earth to leave the Solar System on June 13, 1983.

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