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 16th. For June, your best viewing nights will be from June 9th to the 20th. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on June 15th at 9 pm.
Saturn is the best planetary target for amateur telescopes, and therefore each year I repeat a Saturn column during the best months of the year to observe this planet.
The return of the planet Saturn to the evening skies is of particular importance this year because the favorable tilt of the planet versus the Earth. This view will continue to be impressive for a least 5 more years. A classic Saturn image is shown below.
Of course, the image you will see through your amateur telescopes will be quite small and sometimes blurry, but still impressive.
When observing through my 25 X 100 mm binoculars, the rings of Saturn are tiny, but clearly visible. Any scope you use at 25 power and above will allow you to see the rings of Saturn; of course views are better at 50 power or above. Below are three views of Saturn through amateur telescopes. The smaller blurry image represents what you might see with a very inexpensive discount store telescope. The other two images represent views from Dobsonian reflectors ranging from 6 to 10 inches.
At various times ScienceSouth has free public NASA Saturday astronomy events using the ScienceSouth and Francis Marion’s Dobsonian reflectors. Keep checking our website for dates. We often give people the chance to see spectacular views of the mountains and craters of the Moon and views of the planets. Although these sights generate various amount of excitement, I always hear the biggest “wows” when someone sees Saturn for the first time. The big ball of Jupiter looks quite nice, and the small fuzzy ball of Mars is OK, and some people even enjoy the fuzzy crescent of Venus; but Saturn is special. You can view hundreds of images of Saturn on the Internet, but there is something magical when your see it through your own eyes. So if you have a telescope, try viewing Saturn this month in the southern sky. If you don’t own a telescope come visit us and use our telescopes. Saturn will be in a good viewing position this month onward starting about 9:30. Good viewing of Saturn will continue from now through July. However, if you have a clear view of the western horizon, you can still see Saturn through August and into early September.
To find Saturn this month, look to the southeast to see the pale yellow planet. As you may recall, most seasons of the year have a prominent easily identified constellation in the south. For summer, the constellation is Scorpius. This scorpion shaped, or “sloppy J,” stays close to the horizon throughout the summer. The planet Saturn will be found just to the right of the upper “claw” star of the scorpion, called Graffias.
I have a trick which may help you when viewing Saturn, or any bright planet. When viewing bright planets through amateur telescopes, the contrast of a very bright planet against a black sky can produce a glare which may prevent a clear view of the planet. A simple way to solve this problem is to view the planet before the sky becomes black; during twilight. Example: This month when you go out to view Saturn, begin viewing in the twilight, between 8:45 pm and 9:30 pm.
The ISS (International Space Station):
Since the launch of the ISS in late 1998 until now there have been forty-three crews on board (called expeditions). Expedition 43 began this March, and contains a full crew of six astronauts; two from the United States, three from Russia and one from Italy; see below.
On any given night it is possible to see many artificial earth satellites move across the night sky. However, the brightest by far is the ISS. Measuring several hundred feet across it is an easy target. It is best viewed when its path somewhat high in the sky. So at any given location, the flyover should be high, and in darkness; preferably in the early evening. This month there are two perfect ISS flyovers; one on the 18th lasting about 4 minutes and one on the 21st lasting over 6 minutes. The chart below is for the Florence area and is from the website “Heavens Above.”
The best way to use this chart is to first look in the center column and check the highest point/Alt (altitude) of the flyover in degrees. The best numbers are 60 degrees and above. In this chart there are two flyovers above 60, one at 64 and one at 78 degrees. Next look to the left and check the times for these flyovers. Any times near 20:00:00 and below are in daylight. The flyover listed at highest point 22:07 starts at 22:04 (10:04 pm) and ends at 22:08 (10:08 pm). The 78 degree flyover starts at 9 pm and ends at 9:06. Finally check the dates and your set to go.
Below is a chart of the June 18th flyover. Note that the path of the ISS does not end at the horizon. Instead, the path ends near the bright star in Ophiuchus called Rasalhague. Why, because at this point the ISS moves into the Earth’s shadow.
Naked Eye Sights: Check out the two nice flyovers of the ISS this month.
Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power): Scan the Summer Milky as it reappears in the southern sky.
Telescope Sights (60-100mm): Saturn.
See you next month!