A legendary symbol of beauty adds romance to the early morning skies this week, appearing along with some of the most elusive of Earth’s neighboring worlds.
Venus, the Morning Star: Starting at dawn on Tuesday, June 17, and for the rest of this week, look for the diamond-like Venus to appear in the eastern sky. The brightest starlike object in the morning sky, Venus will rise about 90 minutes before dawn. The planet will hang about 10 degrees above the horizon within a half hour before sunrise.
A backyard telescope trained on the goddess of love will reveal that the planet’s disk appears 80 percent illuminated. The almost-full illumination is due to the geometric arrangement of the Earth and Venus around the sun.
Wonder what to look for at dawn? Check out this stunning shot taken on June 6 of the Washington, D.C., skyline with Venus looking down.
Air is fresh and cool this Friday morning… weather on the 1s News4 Today… Bright Venus in the predawn sky now: pic.twitter.com/SMzqW1X9fz
— Tom Kierein (@TomKierein) June 6, 2014
Moon and Neptune: Before dawn on Wednesday, June 18, look for the ice-blue giant planet, Neptune, to be hanging 5 degrees south of the near quarter moon. Shining at nearly 8th magnitude, Neptune is a challenge to hunt down and is best viewed through large binoculars or telescopes.
The distant giant sits some 30 times farther from the sun than Earth does, and it takes 165 years to make one orbit. This extreme distance means that even under high magnification, Neptune will show itself only as a tiny bluish-colored disk.
Jupiter joins Pollux: After sunset on Friday, June 20, look toward the low northwest sky for the king of planets, brilliant Jupiter. The gas giant will make its closest approach to one of the Gemini constellation’s twins, Pollux, tonight. Appearing only 6 degrees apart, the two stellar objects are easy to see even from light-polluted suburbs, wherever there are no obstructions near the horizon.
While Jupiter is our neighbor, only some 572 million miles (920 million kilometers) away, Pollux lies 34 light-years distant. That’s about 200.6 trillion miles (323 trillion kilometers) away, for anyone counting.
June solstice: In the Northern Hemisphere, summer (winter in the Southern Hemisphere) officially begins at 6:51 a.m. EDT (10:51 UT) on Saturday, June 21; see a list of cities and local times here).
During this season, the Earth’s North Pole is tilted toward the sun, so the Northern Hemisphere receives more direct sunlight and experiences warmer temperatures. Locations south of the equator are tilted away from the sun, so that the sunlight is dispersed, making for colder temperatures.
For sky-watchers on the first day of the new season and a few days afterward, the sun appears to rise at the same place on the horizon—hence the origin of the word solstice, meaning “sun stands still” in Latin.
From the solstice date onward, the days start getting shorter and the nights longer in the Northern Hemisphere. The opposite occurs in the Southern Hemisphere.
Moon visits green giant: In the predawn hours of Saturday, June 21, the waning crescent moon rests beside the distant planet Uranus, in the northeast sky. The cosmic pair will appear to be separated by no more than 2 degrees—equal to to the width of four lunar disks.
Shining at 5th magnitude, Uranus is best seen with binoculars and small telescopes. It appears as a tiny blue-green-tinged disk.
It is amazing to think that the seventh planet from the sun lies 1.86 billion miles (3 billion kilometers) away, so far from Earth that it takes light from the green giant about 168 minutes to reach Earth.