June includes the summer solstice, which makes it the month with the most daylight and the least amount of darkness. Fortunately, the summer night sky includes some of the most spectacular sights for both unaided eye and telescope observations.
The sun sets about 8:30 p.m., but it won’t be astronomically dark until almost 10 p.m. If you go outside during this extended twilight, you can watch the many bright stars appear one by one in the waning daylight. This is a good time to get a star chart and learn to identify the brightest stars when the sky isn’t cluttered with the dozens and then hundreds of dimmer stars. If you are in a dark location and have waited at least 20 minutes for your eyes to become dark-adapted, you should be able to see more than 4,000 stars in a fully dark, moonless sky.
Jupiter, at magnitude -2.6, will rise in the southeastern sky by 8:30 p.m., the same time the sun is setting. Jupiter (and all the planets) make good dusk telescope targets.
Just to the right of Jupiter is the prominent summer constellation Scorpius. Mostly comprised of bright stars, I think it is one of the few constellations that actually looks like its namesake. The bright orange star Antares, which means rival of Mars, is at the heart. Antares is a first-magnitude star, but at magnitude 1.0 is almost 30 times dimmer than Jupiter. The scorpion’s long, curved tail extends below the horizon and won’t be fully visible until 11 p.m. The tail ends in a pair of stars for the stinger and is very near the brightest part of the Milky Way.
There are several mythological stories about the scorpion; most involve Orion. In one version, the scorpion fatally stings Orion, who kills the scorpion before dying. These mortal enemies are then placed on opposite sides of the heavens so they will never be in the sky at the same time.
Slightly more than 1 degree to the west of Antares is the globular cluster M4. Because of its proximity to Antares, it is one of the easiest globulars to find. It should be visible in binoculars as a tiny puffball.
To the east of the scorpion’s stinger is the open cluster M7. It is visible to the naked eye as a faint, fuzzy patch, and binoculars will show a nice, rich grouping of stars.
This monthCongratulations to Durango’s two rocket teams that recently competed in national competitions. The Cloudbusters Team America Rocketry Challenge team from Animas High School made it to the final round at the national competition in Virginia, and the Fort Lewis College team came in second at the First Nations Launch competition in Wisconsin.
The Powerhouse Science Center will screen the Robert Stone film “Chasing the Moon” on Sunday, and there are several kid-friendly activities beforehand. I will be there with solar telescopes for viewing sunspots, prominences and flares (if there are any to be seen), and the rocket teams should have some rockets to show. The movie screening is free, but space is limited, so please RSVP at https://bit.ly/2WoFhMz.
Jupiter reaches opposition Monday, so this is the best month to see it through a telescope. However, you should wait until it is well above the horizon so our atmosphere doesn’t interfere with your views. Saturn rises a couple of hours after Jupiter and will also be an excellent telescope target once it is high enough.
The next Chimney Rock dark sky event is scheduled for June 28.
Charles Hakes teaches in the physics and engineering department at Fort Lewis College and is the director of the Fort Lewis Observatory. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.