June 2019

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 4th. For June, your best viewing nights will be from June 1st to the 10th and the 22nd to the end of the month. The Star chart below is set for Florence, SC on June 15th at 10 pm.

Let me begin with a correction.  I said last month was column #129; incorrect it was actually #139.  So this month’s column is # 140.  I doubt that anyone noticed that every one of my columns are exactly 1000 words long.  Therefore I have written ~140,000 words to date; with some repetition.   Most novels range between 80,000 and 100,000; just for perspective.  Science writing is much easier than writing novels, and I hope some readers have gained some valuable astronomy info over the years.

So this month I will continue a summary of the most important information that I gave you over the last 11 years.  I will break this information down into various categories.

4.  Remember only one word Messier!

This word is likely one of the most used in my 140 columns.  If you dedicate your astronomy hobby to observing the 110 Messier Objects, you can consider yourselves a true amateur astronomer.  Use a book, use the internet, print out my old columns, and find out all about the fabulous Messier objects.  Find some from your back yard, from local star parties, while on vacation (just bring a good pair of binoculars).  Travel to special places just to locate more Messier Objects.  If you meet anyone who claims to be an amateur astronomer, ask them how many Messier Objects they have located.  If they say “what’s a Messier Object”? , you know they are not true amateur astronomers.  Maybe we might call them casual stargazers.

5.  Wow, It’s a Full Moon, Get out the Telescope:

If you read my column, and enjoy astronomy, you already know that the worst possible time to observe the Moon is when it is full.  The brightness results in an uninteresting flat image.  Without shadows to define the craters and mountain ranges, the Moon is dull.  The best time to view the Moon is between crescent and first quarter (a 1 to 7 day old Moon).  I have found that the general public are really excited just seeing the lunar landscape through a good telescope.  Indeed, if you show a novice observer the mountains of the Moon, they are much more excited than when you show them some fuzzy galaxy smudge.  Unlike true amateur astronomers, the Moon is more interesting than a fuzzy view of the amazing Sombrero galaxy.

6. Did You Stay up Late to Watch the Perseids Meteor Shower?

A good meteor shower is always worth staying up late to see.  I define a good meteor shower as 60 or more meteors per hour.  The problem is that many people hear about a meteor shower from the TV news report.  In general, TV news reports exaggerate most astronomical events. There are three major meteor showers each year, and all occurring about mid-month in August, November, and December; respectively, the Perseids, Orionids and the Geminids.  For the last several years, the December Geminids gave the best shower.  If you listen to the news, every meteor shower is great.  If you decide to observe a meteor shower, you must go out after midnight, with many being best at about 3 am; set an alarm clock.  If the Moon is up and bright after midnight, don’t bother.  If you live an area with many house and street lights, drive out to the country side. Meteor showers require dark skies for best viewing.

To obtain the best information about the three major meteor showers, go to the internet and check at least three sites; NASA, Astronomy magazine and Sky and Telescope magazine.  These sites will give you the best information.  Remember, look for predictions above 60 per hour.  Also remember that these predictions are for dark sky areas, and many times the predictions are wrong.  Once in a great while, the astronomy experts will predict a meteor storm, 200 to 400 per hour; always stay up late for a potential meteor storm.  The last storm was 18 years ago during the November Leonids.

7.  Most People don’t own a good Astronomy Computer Program:

When I think about it, one of my most useful astronomy tools is my computer program.  I have tried many programs over the years and have found some to be too simple and some overly complex.  I personally have found the Starry Night program to be a perfect choice.  In addition, they sell various levels from beginner to advanced amateur.  You may find them to be somewhat expensive on the higher level programs, but their usefulness is worth the money.  Also, they update astronomical data free every time you run the program.  When a new comet arrives, no problem, the program will update and show you the path of any new comet.

Naked Eye Sights:  The return of the constellations of summer.  Starting at mid-month until the end, the best two constellations of summer, Scorpius and Sagittarius will be rising from 10 to 11 pm.  Look to the south and enjoy.  The Milky Way is brightest in summer.  Try to find a site near Florence where the Milky Way is very visible.

Binocular Sights (7 to 10 power):  Locate the many Messier Objects in Scorpius, Sagittarius and upward along the Milky Way.

Telescope Sights (60-100mm):  Jupiter in Scorpius and Saturn in Sagittarius.

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

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