Northern Sky: June 2017

By Deane Morrison—Minnesota Starwatch

After nightfall this month, we can compare two giants: Saturn and Jupiter. Jupiter comes out as a beacon in the southwest and sets in the west a few hours later. Trailing it is Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. Below Spica and Jupiter is the skewed, four-sided form of Corvus, the crow.

Saturn rises in the east around sunset and travels the night sky between Scorpius and its red heart, Antares, to the west and the Teapot of Sagittarius to the east. On June 15, Earth laps the ringed planet in the orbital race and it will be at its brightest for the year.

Above Saturn and Jupiter, brilliant Arcturus anchors the kite-shaped constellation Bootes, the herdsman. Just east of high-flying Bootes hangs Corona Borealis, the northern crown, with its brightest star, Gemma, near the lowest point. Gemma is also known as Alphecca, from the Arabic for a bright star in a broken ring of stars.

In the morning sky, Venus shines brightly, low in the east. A waning crescent moon visits on the 20th and 21st.

June’s “strawberry moon” becomes full on the 9th at 8:10 a.m., but by then it will have set. To catch it, go out the night before or by 5 a.m. the morning of the 9th. This is the most distant full moon of the year, coming less than a day after the moon reaches apogee, the farthest point from Earth in its orbit. The night of the 9-10th, the moon and Saturn cross the sky together.

Summer arrives at 11:24 p.m. on Tuesday, June 20, when the sun reaches a point over the Tropic of Cancer. At that moment, Earth will be lighted from the Antarctic Circle up to and past the North Pole, all the way to the Arctic Circle on the night side of the planet.

The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Duluth campus. For more information and viewing schedules, see the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium at: d.umn.edu/planet.