Hunt down a comet, chase Jupiter’s moons, and watch Earth’s moon cozy up to some of the night sky’s brightest planets and stars.
Comet Visitor. After nightfall on Monday, June 2, and for the next few nights, the comet PanSTARRS (C/2012 K1) can easily be spotted through small backyard telescopes. This fuzz-ball comet was discovered in 2012 by astronomers using the Pan-STARRS telescope (hence its name) on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. It’s been steadily brightening ever since, and according to some predictions, it may well reach naked-eye brightness in the weeks or months ahead.
The comet has now reached magnitude 8, and according to editors at Astronomy magazine, it can be picked up right below the bowl of the Big Dipper.
It will appear just 3 degrees east of Mu Ursae Majoris, one of the paws of the Great Bear constellation. Snapshots of the comet, like the one below taken from Italy on May 31 by Stefano Pesci, clearly shows a green gaseous glow around the comet and a nice tail forming.
— Recetas Naturales (@RecetasNaturale) June 2, 2014
Triple Jovian shadow. On Tuesday three of Jupiter’s largest moons, Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede, will simultaneously cast shadows on the upper cloud deck of the largest planet in the solar system. Sky-watchers in eastern Europe and Africa are best placed to enjoy this rare transit, since it occurs during their nighttime. Keen-eyed backyard astronomers in North America can try looking during their daylight hours, but it will be a challenge.
Check out this computer simulation of this triple-shadow transit.
As seen through a small backyard telescope, three tiny black dots will cross the face of Jupiter from 15:22 UT (11:22 a.m. EDT) to 19:43 UT (3:43 p.m. EDT). Miss this triple play, and you’ll have to wait until January 2015 for the next one.
Moon and Leo. Also in the early evening of Tuesday, June 3, you can look toward the west for the waxing crescent moon gliding just underneath the constellation Leo and its brightest member, Regulus, which is 77 light-years away.
By Wednesday, June 4, the moon will have switched to the other side of the brilliant blue-white star.
Moon and Mars. Face the southwest in the late evening on Saturday, June 7, and watch as the waxing gibbous moon pairs up with a bright orange Mars, aka the red planet. The pair will be less than 2 degrees apart, making for a beautiful photo opportunity.
The color contrast between the moon and Mars will be particularly eye-catching.
Spica meets the Moon. By Sunday, June 8, the moon will have slid farther south, positioning itself next to the bright star Spica, located 262 light-years away in the constellation Virgo, the Maiden.
The two will make for another stunning sky show, even for the unaided eye, appearing only 2 degrees apart, the width of only four lunar disks.