June 2010

Tony Martinez

Each month I will describe sights of interest in the night skies of South Carolina. These sights will be broken down into three sections; what you can see with the naked eye, with binoculars, and with a small telescope. The best time to view the night sky is at and around the times when the Moon is not visible, what is known as a New Moon; which will occur this month on June 12th. For June, your best viewing nights will be from June 1st through June 16h. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on June 15th at 9 pm.

For the Early Risers:

I, like many other amateur astronomers, prefer to observe in the evening hours instead of getting up early in the morning. During a nice clear sky star party, it is often no problem to stay up all night, but to wake up from a deep sleep to go outside and observe is sometimes more difficult. One thing that will make amateurs set their alarm clocks is an event that can only be seen in the early morning hours. There are two such events occurring this month.

First, concerns the planet Uranus. We now officially have only eight planets, we remove our Earth from the list, which leaves only seven planets for us to observe. Of these seven, five planets are easily visible to the naked eye, leaving only Uranus and Neptune to try to locate using optical aid. Now if you use a computer program like Starry Night, and use the method I described in my March column, both Uranus and Neptune will not be difficult targets. However, if you wish to just go outside with binoculars or your telescope and observe these two outer planets, it can be more difficult.

This month however, you can easily locate the planet Uranus, but you will have to get up in the early morning hours. On the morning of June 10th, Neptune will be directly over the planet Jupiter in the eastern sky. The image below show the general location. However, Jupiter is so bright, you will have no problem spotting it in the east/southeast sky.

You will only need a simple 7 X 50 mm pair of binoculars to locate the planet Uranus directly above the planet Jupiter; see image below.

If you enjoyed my column last month and purchased a “Big Binocular,” at 25 power, you will easily see the pretty bluish color of Uranus. If instead you use a basic amateur telescope, you should also be able to see the blue color of Uranus sitting above Jupiter. With luck, and a clear night, the image below approximates how Uranus will look above Jupiter through a small telescope.

Next: The other reason to rise early this month, is to view a comet. For amateur astronomers, it has been awhile since we have been able to view a relatively bright comet. This month, Comet McNaught will pass through the constellation Perseus from mid to late June. The brightness of a comet is difficult to predict, but this comet is expected to peak at about magnitude 5 late in the month. If it does, it will then be visible from a dark sky location with the naked eye. Either way, Comet McNaught will be an easy binocular target. However, it may be difficult to pinpoint it in the eastern sky. The best time to locate the comet is from about the 15th onward. Look to the northeast, and refer to the image below, set for June 15th.

Your best approach is to first locate the constellation Cassiopeia, the famous “W” asterism at about 4 am. Next look directly below Cassiopeia, and the brightest star between Cassiopeia and the horizon will be the main star in the constellation Perseus, Mirfak. As you approach 5 am, a much brighter star, Capella will appear on the horizon below and to the left of Mirfak.

Trying to locate a comet having this magnitude is quite easy to do with 7 power binoculars. What is most important, once you know the general location of the comet, is to know the approximate path the comet will take though the sky. The following image gives the approximate path of McNaught from June 14th to June 24th.

So on any night in that timeframe, slowly scan the sky along its pathway, and the comet should be easily seen through your low power binoculars. Once located, you can then switch to more powerful binoculars, or to a telescope.

Meteor Shower:

A little observed/noted meteor shower will arrive on the 23rd. The Bootid meteor shower is seldom ever mentioned since it is not a very good shower. However, in 1998, it greatly improved, having about 100 meteors per hour, and since its parent comet has a six year period, it was also a good shower in 2004. So if this pattern continues, we may see a good display this month. There are two good points about this shower and one bad point.

Good points: It should peak early, between darkness and midnight, and second it is easy to locate since the Big Dipper’s handle will point to the center of the shower. The one bad point is that it will occur during a waning gibbous Moon.

Naked Eye Sights: Try to see the comet McNaught in mid June in the constellation of Perseus. Use both charts above to help your search.

Check out the Bootids meteor shower on June 23rd.

Note the return of the prominent summer constellations Scorpius, Sagittarius and Cygnus by mid to late month.

Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power): Try to observe the planet Uranus above the planet Jupiter.

Next, if the comet is not visible with the naked eye, try to find Comet McNaught in mid June in the constellation of Perseus.

Telescope Sights (60-100mm): Aim your telescope at Jupiter on the morning of the 10th, and try to see the “Blue Ball,” Uranus.

See you next month!

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