BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Four bright planets -- Saturn, Jupiter, Venus and Mars -- will highlight the sky during the warm nights of June.
Saturn will reach opposition (opposite the sun in our sky) on June 27, when it will rise around sunset and shine almost all night. It will be closest to us for the year and therefore at its largest and brightest in telescopes. The golden yellow planet will reach its highest point in the south around midnight. That is when a telescope will give the best view of its rings tilted 26 degrees to our line of sight. Saturn's largest moon, Titan, can be seen with any telescope.
Jupiter will be visible high in the southeast at nightfall, a brilliant white object among the background stars of the constellation Libra. It will be highest in the south around 11 p.m. local time as the month begins and two hours earlier by month's end. The planet's four Galilean moons will show up clearly in small telescopes.
Venus will reach its highest evening altitude of the year on June 6, when it will be 28 degrees above the western horizon at sunset for observers around 40 degrees north latitude. Castor and Pollux, the two brightest stars of the constellation Gemini, will appear just above Venus as the sky darkens. On June 19 and 20, the gleaming white planet will be in the outer part of the Beehive star cluster.
Mars will rise around midnight local daylight time as June begins and around 10:30 p.m. as the month ends. It will spend the month in the constellation Capricornus, which will be low in the southern sky for observers in the Northern Hemisphere. The Red Planet will more than double in brightness during June as it approaches opposition in late July. The best views with a telescope will come when it is highest in the hours before dawn.
Mercury will emerge from behind the sun and become visible in evening twilight by mid-month. Look for the small planet low in the west-northwest.
The sun will reach the June solstice at 6:07 a.m. EDT (10:07 Universal Time) June 21, marking the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. For the next six months in the Northern Hemisphere, the days will be getting shorter.
The word "solstice" is derived from two Latin words that mean "the sun stands still." This is because the summer sun climbs to a higher point in the southern sky each day until the solstice.
On the day of the solstice it appears to arrive at about the same maximum height above the horizon as the day before, and each day afterward its maximum point is lower, dropping back toward its lowest point at the December solstice. In this sense, the sun "stands still" at the peak of its journey across the summer sky before it starts downward again toward the southern horizon.
The moon will be at third quarter on June 6, new on June 13, at first quarter on June 20 and full on June 28.