Skywatchers this week get a chance to track down an elusive frozen planet in the outer reaches of the solar system and glimpse the only moon known to have clouds and a dense atmosphere.
Moon meets with Uranus. On Monday and Tuesday, June 3 and 4, early bird skywatchers around the world get to see a waning crescent moon pass near the green giant Uranus before dawn. The cosmic odd-couple will appear about three degrees apart in the sky—equal to six full moons side-by-side on Monday. On Tuesday the pair will be about 12 degrees apart – a little more than the width of your fist at arm’s length.
The seventh planet from the sun has four times the width of Earth. But since Uranus lies nearly 1.9 billion miles (3.1 billion kilometers) away from Earth, it’s barely visible to the naked eye—and only in very dark, pristine skies.
With the glare from the nearby moon, binoculars will be your best bet in spotting Uranus easily. Just look for a tiny greenish-blue disk in the field of view. By the way, the absorption of red light by methane in the atmosphere is what gives Uranus it’s cool cyan coloring.
Planetary row. About a half hour after sunset on Monday Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter form a near straight ten degree line, with Mercury farthest from the horizon and Jupiter closest, and Venus nearly right in the middle.
Over the course of the rest of the week watch the lineup lengthen as Mercury climbs higher the evening sky and Jupiter continues to sink closer to the horizon.
Saturn’s moon Titan. The ringed planet Saturn is on prime display this season, riding high in southern skies in the early evenings (high in the east in southern hemisphere skies). The bright star next door is Spica—lead member of the constellation Virgo.
On Wednesday, June 5, with a small telescope trained on Saturn you can glimpse its brightest and biggest moon, Titan. It will appear as a bright star-like object about four ring-widths to the east of the planet (south of the planet in the southern hemisphere).
Big Dipper dips. On Friday, June 7, with exactly two weeks to go until summer officially begins in the northern hemisphere, the iconic Big Dipper within the Ursa Major (Great Bear) constellation hangs high in the northwest at nightfall. The distinctive seven-star pattern hangs straight down with its handle high in the northwest after dark.
Venus points to young moon. Look towards the very low northwest sky about 30 minutes after sunset on Sunday, June 9, for an observing challenge. Venus will act as a guidepost to a razor-thin crescent moon directly below. The pair will be separated by about six degrees—a little more than the width of three fingers at arm’s length. For skywatchers in the southern hemisphere, the moon will be paired with Jupiter to its lower right.
Tell us—what amazing sky phenomena have you seen lately?