StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

JUNE  2005


Print Large Sky Charts For 10 p.m. EDT:   NORTH | EAST | SOUTH | WEST | ZENITH

[Moon Phases]


459    JUNE 5, 2005:   Walking in Moonlight
During the past week I have been hobbling on an ankle twisted while crossing Hamilton St. on my way to Allen HS. After hiking 40 miles with students in mid-May, scrambling up and down steep canyon trails, hopping over countless boulders, and surviving the rapids of Cataract Canyon, I was “done in” on a smooth, macadam street. Thankfully, traffic came to a halt, and my injuries were not compounded by tread marks. The upside of all of the downtime created by this injury was some quality time spent tweaking the digital images that I took while teaching in the Southwest. The photos that I first gravitated to were the moonlight images along the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. I had planned the river trip specifically so that we could take advantage of that bright nightlight, and it was a great experience to see our Dieruff students functioning normally under only the light of a waxing gibbous moon. Students still carried flashlights, but they were used minimally. My favorite moonlight experience was a hike to Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park. See the photos on the on-line version of this article at the web address below. The trail was a strenuous, cairn hopping, 1.5 miles up red slickrock to a breathtaking 70-foot arch perched by itself on the edge of a cliff. In front, the rock had been eroded into a huge, smooth, bowl-shaped amphitheater that accented the arch’s solitude and prominence. Arriving about 45 minutes after sundown, we watched the gradual transition from daylight to moonlight. We departed amidst an eerie landscape steeped in bluish hues, illuminated only by the moon and stars. This summer make the time for a moonlight drive or hike. You’ll be amazed at what you can see.

[Delicate Arch in Twilight]
Dieruff students from Allentown, PA meet Delicate Arch in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah under the fading light of a perfect day. Gary A. Becker digital photo...

[Delicate Arch in Moonlight]
Delicate Arch under the light of a waxing gibbous moon gives the hint of an underexposed daylight image except for the background stars. Gary A. Becker digital photo...

460    JUNE 12, 2005:   Planets Gathering in the West
Unfolding during the next two weeks in the western heavens about 45 minutes after sundown will be one of the best planetary gatherings of the year. The dancers will be Mercury and Venus, but Saturn will also be nearby. Over the past month, Venus has been slowly inching its way into the evening sky. From mid-northern latitudes, Venus’s orbital plane is tilted low to the horizon, so that its rapid motion around the sun has given it little chance to gain altitude. I first saw Venus from Albuquerque, New Mexico on May 12, but it has now climbed northward enough to be visible from higher latitudes in the WNW by 9:15 p.m. Last week, Venus stood as a solitary sentinel guarding the west, but then on June 8, a thin wisp of a horned moon stood above Venus against a sultry pink sky just clear enough for the two to be visible. Photos can be found with this week’s StarWatch article at the website noted below. The moon passed Saturn on June 9, and Wednesday it stands below Jupiter. During all of this time, Mercury has been racing northward and should start to become visible below and to Venus’s right by late this week. Mercury will close on Venus through June 26 and then pass the Goddess of Love, appearing ahead of her on June 27. On both of these dates, Mercury and Venus will be visible together in the same field of view in small telescopes. At the very least, have binoculars handy because summer’s haze may make Mercury difficult to spot with the unaided eye. While Mercury and Venus are tightening their embrace, keep an eye out for Saturn too! Earth’s orbital motion will bring slow moving Saturn ever closer to the sun and the horizon. By the time that Mercury and Venus become kissing cousins, Saturn will stand guard just 1-1/2 degrees below the pair.

[Venus in the west]
Venus begins to make its appearance in the western sky. June 7, 2005 digital photo by Gary A. Becker.

[Moon joins Venus]
The moon, with a hint of earthshine, joins Venus on June 8 against a sultry evening sky. Gary A. Becker digital photo...

[Planetary Gathering]

461    JUNE 19, 2005:   Planets Positioning
This week will present the best opportunity to observe the planetary congregation of Venus, Mercury, and Saturn in the WNW about 45 minutes after sundown. Observing from urban or rural locales should pose few problems because Venus is the third brightest object in the sky after the sun and the moon. People who live in high rise apartments with good western balcony views will have a grandstand seat. Venus, because of its brightness, will act to guide your attention to the correct sky position, so that you can easily use binoculars to scan the immediate area to find both Saturn and Mercury. The key elements for success will be a horizon unencumbered by buildings or trees, along with a cloudless western sky. On Sunday, Mercury is three degrees below and to the right of Venus, while Saturn is nearly seven degrees to the left and above Venus. Most binoculars have between a seven and 10 degree field of view. All three planets will appear to be in a straight, diagonal line. Scan Venus with binoculars first, and then move them diagonally to Venus’s right and left. Both Mercury and Saturn will be approximately the same brightness, but Venus’s reflectivity will be over 20 times greater. By Tuesday, Mercury has closed to just two degrees and Saturn within five degrees of Venus. By Thursday, Mercury is just over one degree away from Venus, while Saturn has moved to within three degrees of the Goddess of Love. All three planets will now be easily visible in the same binocular field. On Saturday, Mercury is only one moon diameter distant from Venus, and Saturn has moved below the pair. By Sunday, Venus and Mercury have closed to 1/6th degree and will be easily seen in the same telescopic field at relatively high magnifications. Good viewing!

[Planets Gathering-1]
Planets Gathering:   Saturn, upper left, Venus, in the clouds, and Mercury, just above the tree line to the far right, begin to position themselves for their close conjunction next week. Gary A. Becker digital photo...

462    JUNE 26, 2005:   Mercury and Venus Still Conspicuous
The twilight rendezvous of Venus and Mercury in the WNW continues all this week. On Sunday, Venus and Mercury are only 1/5th of a degree apart; Monday, 1/8th deg.; Tuesday 1/3rd deg.; and Wednesday, 1/2 deg. Throughout most of the week, both planets will be seen in the same field of view in any small telescope. Simply find Venus as the bright star like object in the WNW, 45 minutes after sundown, and Mercury will be next to it. After midweek your telescope will need to be moved ever so slightly to the left of Venus to see Mercury. Through the eyepiece, each planet will appear distinct, even negating Venus’s obvious brightness. Venus’s disk should appear twice as large as Mercury’s. Venus will also be near its full phase because it is still on the far side of the sun. Conversely, Mercury will be approaching its greatest angle from the sun, and it will appear similar in shape to a first quarter moon. One half of Mercury will be illuminated by the sun, while the other half will be in darkness. But it may still be difficult to distinguish Mercury’s “quarter moon” shape if the atmosphere is turbulent. Keep in mind that the sun is high during the summer, and the Earth is absorbing a great deal of energy during the day. At night most of this heat is radiated back into space causing bubbles of air to rise and settle as the atmosphere seeks to attain some type of equilibrium. The greatest thickness of air that a telescope must penetrate lies nearest to the horizon, exactly where Mercury and Venus will be positioned. View with patience, focus your scope often, and you will probably achieve success. If you don’t have a telescope handy, bring binoculars along. Summer haze may make Mercury difficult to spot without the help of some optical aid. Much success!

[Planetary Gathering]
Saturn (left), Venus (center) and Mercury close, in what will become the best planetary conjunction of 2005. Canon D20 digital photography by Gary A. Becker, June 24th...

June Star Map

June Moon Phase Calendar