Despite having the latest sunset, longest twilight, and shortest night of the year, the month of June still offers an opportunity to see the sky’s brightest objects appear as darkness slowly descends—the Moon, five planets, and three radiant summer stars!
Because it takes so long for it to get dark this month, many sky watchers (especially those having to rise early for work or school) tend to write off stargazing in June. But there’s always still much to see once the Sun has set and twilight begins. Most obvious is the Moon itself, growing from a beautiful thin crescent on the 15th above the western horizon to a striking full Moon heaving itself over the eastern horizon on the 27th.
There’s also a splendid parade of three bright planets, starting above the western horizon and crossing the sky to the eastern one! Facing west is dazzling Venus (the third brightest object in the sky after the Sun and Moon). Turning and facing south, halfway up the sky we find Jupiter—fainter than Venus but still radiant. And lastly, looking east is Saturn, dimmer but still unmistakable. Joining this lineup is the Moon in its eastward orbit of the Earth. On the 15th, its lovely crescent lies below Venus. On the 23rd its gibbous sphere hangs just above Jupiter. And on the 27th the full Moon is sitting nearly on top of Saturn, only a degree apart and a spectacular pair—especially as seen in binoculars!
In addition to this lunar and planetary parade, there’s still more to see. In the slowly fading twilight of June, it’s fun to watch for the brighter stars to gradually make their appearance onto the celestial stage. One poet described them as the “flowers in the meadows of heaven.” Seeing them “blossoming” in the growing darkness is something that I, and many other stargazers I know, find positively entrancing.
Well placed in the sky on June evenings, two of the brightest and first to appear are orange-hued Arcturus in the constellation Bootes and sapphire-blue Vega in Lyra. Not far behind them is ruddy Antares in Scorpius. Use your Scientifics Star and Planet Locator to identify the gradual appearance of other bright stars as the sky darkens. By the time the blanket of night has completely covered the sky, the heavens will be found ablaze with scintillating lesser lights. The Moon, planets, and colorful stellar luminaries, all seen against a starry backdrop. What a show! As the poet Sara Teasdale said: “I know that I am honored to be witness of so much majesty.”
— James Mullaney
Former assistant editor at Sky & Telescope magazine and author of 10 books on
stargazing. His latest, Celebrating the Universe!, is available from HayHouse.com.