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5 Sky Events This Week: Glimpsing a Green Giant, Big Dipper Rides High

The Big Dipper stellar pattern hangs on its side in early June evening skies. Credit: Starry Night Software / A.Fazekas
The Big Dipper stellar pattern hangs on its side in the northwest in early June evenings. Credit: Starry Night Software / A.Fazekas

 

Skywatchers this week get a chance to track down an elusive frozen planet in the outer reaches of the solar system and glimpse the only moon known to have clouds and a dense atmosphere.

Moon meets with Uranus.  On Monday and Tuesday, June 3 and 4, early bird skywatchers around the world get to see a waning crescent moon pass near the green giant Uranus before dawn.  The cosmic odd-couple will appear about three degrees apart in the sky—equal to six full moons side-by-side on Monday. On Tuesday the pair will be about 12 degrees apart – a little more than the width of your fist at arm’s length.

The seventh planet from the sun has four times the width of Earth. But since Uranus lies nearly 1.9 billion miles (3.1 billion kilometers) away from Earth, it’s barely visible to the naked eye—and only in very dark, pristine skies.

With the glare from the nearby moon, binoculars will be your best bet in spotting Uranus easily.  Just look for a tiny greenish-blue disk in the field of view. By the way, the absorption of red light by methane in the atmosphere is what gives Uranus it’s cool cyan coloring.

Planetary row.  About a half hour after sunset on Monday Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter form a near straight ten degree line, with Mercury farthest from the horizon and Jupiter closest, and Venus nearly right in the middle.

Over the course of the rest of the week watch the lineup lengthen as Mercury climbs higher the evening sky and Jupiter continues to sink closer to the horizon.

Saturn’s moon Titan.  The ringed planet Saturn is on prime display this season, riding high in southern skies in the early evenings (high in the east in southern hemisphere skies). The bright star next door is Spica—lead member of the constellation Virgo.

On Wednesday, June 5, with a small telescope trained on Saturn you can glimpse its brightest and biggest moon, Titan. It will appear as a bright star-like object about four ring-widths to the east of the planet (south of the planet in the southern hemisphere).

Cassini spacecraft's view of Saturn's rings—edge-on—and the planet's moon Titan. This week backyard telescope users get to glimpse  the giant moon for themselves.  Credit: Nasa, CICLOPS
Cassini spacecraft’s view of Saturn’s rings—edge-on—and the planet’s moon Titan. This week backyard telescope users get to glimpse the giant moon for themselves. Credit: Nasa, CICLOPS

Big Dipper dips. On Friday, June 7, with exactly two weeks to go until summer officially begins in the northern hemisphere, the iconic Big Dipper within the Ursa Major (Great Bear) constellation hangs high in the northwest at nightfall. The distinctive seven-star pattern hangs straight down with its handle high in the northwest after dark.

Venus points to young moon. Look towards the very low northwest sky about 30 minutes after sunset on Sunday, June 9, for an observing challenge. Venus will act as a guidepost to a razor-thin crescent moon directly below. The pair will be separated by about six degrees—a little more than the width of three fingers at arm’s length. For skywatchers in the southern hemisphere, the moon will be paired with Jupiter to its lower right.

Tell us—what amazing sky phenomena have you seen lately?

 

Comments

  1. John
    Buffalo NY
    June 11, 2013, 10:26 am

    Uranus lies 1.9 billion miles from earth, not 1.9 million miles as stated. If Uranus were that close, it would fill most of our daytime sky and blot out our Sun!

    • Andrew Fazekas
      June 11, 2013, 10:29 am

      Thanks for the catch, John! Fixed.

  2. hanghannah
    Vietnam
    June 11, 2013, 10:01 am

    the recent sky phenomena that i have seen ?
    it could be the red moon, even though the moon did not turn into deep red as some photo, it became a bit light red and still so far to see the real deep red

    • Andrew Fazekas
      June 11, 2013, 10:33 am

      The moon in the sky can take on different shades of red and orange. This not only happens during a lunar eclipse but when the moon is rising and is still near the horizon. This reddish color is caused by the moonlight refracting off particles of dust and pollution in Earth’s atmosphere.

  3. Ligia Vargas
    Costa Rica
    June 6, 2013, 12:04 am

    So grateful to you and wonderful to keep learning through you. Thank you so much and all my best from beautiful Costa Rica and Panama :)

  4. Nan
    New Orleans
    June 5, 2013, 11:17 pm

    I saw a couple of unidentified objects in the sky on Mothers day, and there is a beautiful red-orange”star” in the east-southeast sky, I don’t know what it is, but it is mesmerizing.

    • Andrew Fazekas
      June 11, 2013, 10:39 am

      If this is after nightfall then there are two distinctly orange colored stars visible this time of the year in the southeast. The one near the horizon is Antares – the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius, while the one to its far upper left (much higher) is Arcturus, the brightest member of the constellation Bootes. Both are classified as dying Red Giant stars. Hope this helps.

  5. constanzabibs
    chile
    June 5, 2013, 9:01 pm

    buenas la fotografías :)

  6. Mohamad Nasser Bella
    Kelantan, Malaysia
    June 4, 2013, 7:18 pm

    I lost my way on sunday evening somewhere between Malaysia – Thailand border. When I look up to the sky, it was an unusual clear blue sky before sunset. A cool colour that i’ve never seen before in my life!

  7. na na
    na na earth
    June 4, 2013, 1:36 pm

    can i come visit one day

  8. Hi
    Hi,HiWorld
    June 4, 2013, 1:27 pm

    hi

  9. jerry2665
    New York.
    June 3, 2013, 9:43 pm

    This is absolutely going to be amazing to see. I hope for a clear sky. Peace. J.