June 2017

                                  Tony Martinez

Each month I will describe sights of interest in the night skies of South Carolina. These sights will be broken down into four sections: what you can see with the naked eye, with binoculars, with a small refracting telescope and with a Dobsonian reflector. 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 23rd. For June, your best viewing nights will be from June 12th to the 28th. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on June 15th at 9 pm. Note: A table of contents for earlier columns is located in the June 2016 column.

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 continues to be of particular importance this year because the favorable tilt of the planet versus the Earth. This view will continue to be impressive for at least 4-5 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, I can just see the rings of Saturn, they are tiny, but clearly visible. Therefore, 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 and 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 astronomy events using the ScienceSouth Dobsonian reflectors. Keep checking our website for dates. We often set dates that will allow us to see spectacular views of the mountains and craters of the Moon along with the views of the planets. Although the Moon and Jupiter both generate various amounts of excitement, I always hear the biggest “wows” when someone sees Saturn for the first time. The Moon is great, 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 10 pm. Good viewing of Saturn will continue from now through August, and into September. However, if you have a clear view of the western horizon, you can still see Saturn through September and into early October.

To find Saturn this month, look to the southeast to see the pale yellow planet. Find the two most obvious constellations; Scorpius and Sagittarius, described later in this column.

The planet Saturn will be found between these constellations, somewhat closer to Sagittarius, see image below. It is interesting that the location of Saturn this summer is close to the center of our Milky Way. Below and slightly to the left of Saturn is the center of our galaxy and the location of our black hole. The location of Saturn lies almost exactly over our black hole in mid-December, but at that time it is also nearly in line with our Sun, so obviously not visible.

I have a trick that may help you when viewing Saturn, or any bright planet. When viewing bright planets through some 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, for July, start about 9 pm. Note, in July and August, Saturn will be much higher in the sky, so this twilight viewing trick will be more useful.

The Constellations of Summer:
The constellations of summer are returning. The two most prominent constellations of summer are Scorpius and Sagittarius, now rising in the southeast, moving into the southern sky next month.

Scorpius itself does look like a scorpion, but the stars for its claws appear to be missing. The ancients used two stars in the constellation we now call Libra to represent the claws; Zubeneschmali and Zubenelgenubi. So just look to the right of Scorpius and add these two stars to complete the scorpion. Scorpius is also known as the “Letter J” asterism. The brightest star in Scorpius is the red-orange star Antares at the heart of the Scorpion. Unlike Scorpius, Sagittarius does not look at all like its namesake, an archer riding on a horse; it looks like a teapot. I would expect that when it was named thousands of years ago, no one used teapots. Check it out.

Naked Eye Sights: Scorpius and Sagittarius, now rising in the southeast. In dark sky areas, the Milky Way should be easy to see, because in the summer we look into the direction of the center of the Milky Way, maximizing the concentration of stars.

 Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power): Aim your binoculars between Sagittarius and Scorpius and slowly wander upward, to see star clusters and nebulae.

Telescope Sights (60-100mm): Saturn, in the southeast is always the best planetary target, followed by Jupiter, now in the southwest.

Dobsonian telescope (6 -8 inch): Saturn and Jupiter.

See you next month!

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