Sky Notes for June 2012, with James Abbott #stargazing

On June 6th, the Sun will rise over Essex with a Transit of Venus well underway. These rare events occur in pairs, the last one being the transit of June 2004 which was blessed by a warm clear day and hardly a cloud in the sky. The next will not be until the year 2117.

Unfortunately the circumstances this year are much less favourable in the UK than for the 2004 Transit. The Sun will rise at 4.41 BST with Venus already well into its passage across the face of our star. Only the last hour or so of the event will be visible, with the Sun still low in the sky. As the Transit ends, at about 6am BST, the Sun will be barely 10 degrees in altitude.

The last transit of Venus in front of the sun in 2004. Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

The last transit of Venus in front of the sun in 2004. Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek

Observing anywhere near the Sun without specialist equipment is of course dangerous. So given that, and the unfavourable circumstances, for many people the best place to see the Transit will be on TV news or the internet where there will be lots of reports from around the world. But for those equiped with the correct solar filters, or using the projection method, the key to a successful observation will be a clear horizon to the East and North East – and some luck with the weather.

The Summer Solstice occurs this year at around midnight BST on the night of June 20th/21st. The evenings between then and the end of June are the lightest of the year when under clear skies it can still be broad daylight well after 10pm.

The lightest mornings are about a week before the Solstice, the Sun rising at around 4.38am BST and well to the North of East.

With such long days, the June nights are short and Astronomical Twilight lasts throughout the night, although it is dark enough after about 11pm BST to observe planets and the brighter stars.

Mars and Saturn are both still visible and the gap between them closes so that by the end of June they are about 24 degrees apart. The 2 planets will be fairly low in the West as it gets dark, with Saturn still quite close to Spica. The young waxing Moon will pass below the 2 planets from the 25th to the 28th.

Mars & Saturn in late June

Mars & Saturn in late June

The June Full Moon on the 4th slides just 15 degrees above the Southern horizon in the early hours and can appear larger than normal due to the “Moon Illusion“. It can also often have a red tint due to viewing it through a greater depth of atmosphere.

The best chance of seeing noctilucent clouds each year is usually in late June with the time from 10.30pm to 11pm BST favoured and also before dawn. The first observations of this season have now been made from Northern Europe. A good source of up to date reports and images can be found on the Noctilucent Cloud Observers site, where you can also send in any sightings you make using a standard form of reporting which the site explains.

Noctilucent Clouds (Image by Paul Blakesley)

Noctilucent Clouds (Image by Paul Blakesley)

James Abbott is an astronomer, NEAS member and CfDS Regional Information Officer.

You can download a free map of the evening sky here:

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Posted on 4 June, 2012, in Astronomy News, Popular Science, Stargazing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Sky Notes for June 2012, with James Abbott #stargazing.

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