Venus has just left the evening sky, and now Jupiter and Saturn are moving in. By mid-month, both will be up in the southeast before midnight. Jupiter, by far the brighter planet, shines west of Saturn and leads the ringed planet across the night sky.
Mars doesn’t quite make it into the evening sky. But it rises earlier each day, approaching midnight from the morning side. By dawn Mars will be a fairly bright dot in the southeast. As for Venus, it reappears in the morning sky this month, but doesn’t climb out of the sun’s foreglow until late June or early July.
If you’re out at nightfall, the brilliant star Arcturus dominates the southern sky. Arcturus, the jewel of kite-shaped Bootes, the herdsman, is the brightest star in the northern hemisphere of sky. However, it’s barely brighter than Vega—the beacon to the east of Arcturus—so they can be considered co-holders of that title.
Between June 28 and 29, a waxing moon glides between Arcturus and Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, the maiden, which shines about 30 degrees below Arcturus. Whenever Spica is up, you can find it by following the curve of the Big Dipper’s handle—always somewhere to the north—to locate Arcturus, then keeping going to find Spica. In other words, “arc to Arcturus, speed on to Spica.”
June’s full moon arrives at 2:12 pm on June 5. It follows Scorpius and Antares, the scorpion’s bright red heart, across the night sky. Jupiter and Saturn follow the moon that night; between Jupiter and the moon is the Teapot of Sagittarius.
If you like challenges, look for a very old crescent moon to the lower left of Venus, right above the east-northeastern horizon about half an hour before sunrise on June 19. Then look for an extremely young and thin crescent moon getting ready to set over the western horizon at nightfall on June 23. Use binoculars, and see if you can find the Beehive star cluster right below the moon.
Summer begins with the solstice, at 4:44 pm on June 20. At that moment the sun reaches a point over the Tropic of Cancer, and an observer from space would see Earth lighted from the Antarctic Circle up to the North Pole and beyond to the Arctic Circle on the night side of the planet.
June—throughout the month
Look to the southeast at around 3 am to see Mars. At the same time, look to the south to see Jupiter, and Saturn close by each other. All three will be present in the dawn sky throughout the month, with Mars rising higher and higher above the horizon as the month goes along.
Saturn, Jupiter, and the waning gibbous Moon will form an almost straight line in the southern sky at around 4 am.
At the same time as June 8, look for the Moon, but now visible on the other side of Saturn and Jupiter, forming a shallow arc in the southern morning sky.
Happy Summer Solstice! This is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and marks the start of summer at 4:43 pm.
June 5—Full Moon
The Moon is located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and the side we see is fully illuminated.
June 13—Last Quarter Moon
This phase occurs when the Moon is three-quarters of the way through its orbit around the Earth.
June 21—New Moon
The Moon is located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and is not visible in the night sky. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects like galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
June 28—First Quarter Moon
The Moon is one quarter of its way through its orbit around the Earth, which makes half the Moon illuminated and half dark from our perspective.
With the longest days of the year (including the longest on June 20!), seeing the faint fuzzies in the sky is difficult in June. To track down these objects, you’re going to have to get out late (after the Sun is far below the horizon) and ideally some distance away from bright city lights (just a half hour or hour away from the Twin Cities gives you a much better view of the sky!)
To the southeast we can find the constellation of Hercules, of the demigod of Greek legend and star of a really good Disney movie. Four of the brightest stars make up the “Keystone” asterism at the center of Hercules. In between the two stars on the right side of the keystone we can find Messier 13, aka The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules! M13 can be found with a pair of binoculars, but if you have a telescope, the 300,000 stars in this cluster will pop into view, giving you a look at one of the most glamorous objects in the sky. Globular clusters have been incredibly important to astronomers studying the age of the universe: the clusters don’t have any new stars forming, so you can look at them and see some of the oldest stars in the universe. M13 is estimated to be 11.65 billion years old! You can watch our Constellation Hunter video below to help you find Hercules.
If the age of M13 is getting to you (I know the feeling), take a trip down to the east, where you can find the bright bird, Cygnus the Swan flying through the sky. This constellation is very simple—six stars make up the main body and wings, with another two at the end of each wing completing our avian acquaintance in the aether. Many of you might also know Cygnus as “The Northern Cross,” and others might be able to imagine the stars as a bow and arrow, a person, or—with a few more lines to fill out the wings—a blacksmith’s hammer.
The tail of the Swan is named Deneb, and if you travel a fistlength away from it and the rest of the Swan, you can spot Messier 39 with a pair of binoculars. This is a small open cluster of stars, with only a couple dozen members, just 1,000 light years away, a mere 300 million years old. At this young age, the cluster contains stars in the prime of their life—known as the main sequence—and many will continue that way for billions of years more. Three of the stars (HIP 106293, HIP 106346, HIP 106297) are on their way out sooner: In just a few million years they will expand and cool, expelling their outer layers and becoming red giants. But until that happens, they offer an easy way to spot M39, since the three stars appear close together forming a bright triangle near the center of the cluster. If you add HIP 106409 a little farther away from the triangle, you can draw a straight line from 106293 through 106346 to 106409.
If you can’t get outside the city (or just don’t have the time!) to find those deep sky objects, don’t despair, just look at the head of Cygnus. The star at the head or beak of Cygnus is named Albireo, and it’s bright enough that you can see it from the Twin Cities with your naked eye. If you have a pair of binoculars, take another look at Albireo. What do you see now? One star has become two, each with its own entrancing color, one blue, one yellow. This is a beautiful example of a “double-star”: two stars, unrelated to each other, but appearing to be close together from the Earth. This is in contrast to a “binary star” system where two stars are bound together by gravity, and orbiting around each other.
For those who might complain that a star (or even two) doesn’t count as a “deep sky object,” I’ll respond: It’s an object, it’s in the sky, and at over 400 light years away (over two quadrillion miles!) I think that qualifies as “far away.”