StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

JUNE  2010


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

[Moon Phases]
Solar X-rays:  
Geomagnetic Field:  
Status Current Moon Phase
720    JUNE 6, 2010:   Three Planets and a Star
Two interesting gatherings involving three planets and a star are taking place this week. On Sunday, June 6, don’t forget to take a peek at the close association of the planet Mars and the star Regulus, of Leo the Lion, in the early evening sky right after it gets dark. Look WSW about one third of the way up in the sky from the horizon. The pair, which will be separated by less than two lunar diameters, will be almost identical in brightness to the unaided eye. However with binoculars, you’ll easily notice that Mars, which will be above and to the right of Regulus, will be just a little brighter. Binoculars will also show the pinkish hue of the “Red Planet” contrasted against blue-white Regulus. If June 6th is cloudy, the pair will “hang together” for the next several days, but Mars will be above Regulus on the 7th, and then move to the left of Regulus on subsequent days as they begin to pull apart. Another conjunction, this one a triple play between Jupiter and Uranus, starts unfolding before dawn this week. On Tuesday morning Jupiter will be less than a degree below Uranus in the ESE. To view this event with some ease, binoculars or a telescope/spotting scope will prove necessary. By 4 a.m., Jupiter will be low, but prominently bright, in the SE about 20 degrees above the horizon. A view through binoculars will show an easily seen “star” above Jove. That will be Uranus. You may even be able to catch several of Jupiter’s large Galilean moons which will be strung like delicate pearls on a beaded necklace if a spotting scope or a small telescope at low magnification is used. Your scope should have a minimum field of view of at least two lunar diameters or one degree. This is just the first of three trysts that Jupiter and Uranus will be having during the next six months. Jupiter passes Uranus for a second time on September 19 and for a third time on January 4, 2011.

721    JUNE 13, 2010:   Endless Summer
I’ll be on my way to work, but still fairly close to home when it happens on June 21. The time will be 7:26 a.m. EDT, but somewhere over the central Sahara on the Tropic of Cancer, the sun will reach its greatest culmination north of the equator, and the Northern Hemisphere will switch from spring into summer. It will be the moment of the summer solstice. The word solstice means “sun standstill,” where the sun essentially does not move north or south. Sol still continues its easterly motion among the stars by about one degree per day, due to the Earth’s yearly circuit around the sun, but it pauses in its north-south movement changing its position by only several seconds of arc during the same 24-hour period. Keep in mind that there are 3,600 seconds of arc in one degree. While the seasons “flip” effortlessly as the sun passes certain “signposts” in the sky, this current journey towards summer holds special significance for me. For the past 55 years I have been involved in the education profession—13 years as a student in the public schools of Allentown, PA, then four years of college at Kutztown (PA) University. For the past 38 years I have taught in the Allentown schools, first as assistant director, then as director of the Allentown School District Planetarium. Now all of this is coming to an end as retirement beckons at the onset of this summer’s solstice. I will be calling this the year of the endless summer, but don’t think that “old” teachers like soldiers simply fade away. I plan to continue writing about astronomy, observing, and photographing the night sky. I will also continue to teach, but this time on the tertiary level at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. No more bells or rigid schedules to adhere to, but I will miss the electrifying enthusiasm of kids seeing the stars for the first time. New roads, new journeys, and a new life… Ad Astra!

[Last Dieruff Class, Spring 2010]
My last Dieruff astronomy class was small but mighty. Left to right, Karinette M. Sanchez, Xiomarys Guevara “CO,” Gary A. Becker, Amelia R. Tognoli, Jacob R. Johnson, Christian W. Camacho, and Steven W. Fleischmann.

[First Moravian College Class, Spring 2010]
Spring 2010 Allen High School Class... The last Allen astronomy class before retirement… On the floor from left to right are Lea Silfies, Naomi Melendez, and Jose A. Rivera. Standing (l-r) are Anthony Todora, Daniel M. Mauricio, Michelle E. Simbana, Luis Miguel Serna (my Columbian connection), Jordan Golden, Adrian Minaya, Gary A. Becker, Katherine Salcedo, Freislyn Santana, Orlando Suazo, and Tyler F. Fatzinger.

[Last Allen Class, Spring 2010]
Students in my first Moravian College Class, Bethlehem, PA included (left to right) Joshua R. Brown, Kevin Bagar, Christopher Leiby, Megan A. Hughes, Douglas Anglin (Lehigh Uni.), Reynard M. Benschop, Arturo Torres, Jessie L. Ervin, Eddie P. Flaherty, Rebecca Grube, Gaby Haddad, Christina Bonavita, Adam Dart, Kim White, Tom Turcich, Kayla Carson, Leila Chiles, Jessica Cortes, Albert Lazaro, Jonathan Boksan, Dan Belowich, Patrick Cunningham, and Jordan Adams.

722    JUNE 20, 2010:   Sneaky Comet Catching Spotlight
There is a new comet in the morning sky, C/2009 R1 (McNaught), discovered by veteran observer, Robert McNaught of Siding Spring Observatory, New South Wales, Australia. Siding Spring is located about 230 miles northwest of Sidney near the town of Coonabarabran. When friends of mine and I spent three weeks at Siding Spring in February 2001, we used the roll-off-roof observatory right next to the Uppsala telescope and dome that were used in McNaught’s discovery. Identified from images taken on September 9, 2009, Comet McNaught is a first-timer into the inner solar system, and as such, is much more unpredictable than periodic comets that have regular orbits. McNaught’s upside is that it has been running consistently brighter than predicted, while its downside, it orbital path, puts it low in the morning sky (4:15 a.m.), visible in dawn’s early light. This week offers the best opportunity to see the comet at its brightest before it disappears as it rounds the sun on July 2, and then becomes visible in the southern hemisphere. Here is what to do if you are going to make an attempt to spot McNaught. Scout out a location which is high and offers a good NE horizon. Make sure that the sky is clear right down to the horizon. Bring along binoculars. During the week of June 20, C/2009 R1 will be found in the direction of the sixth brightest star of the nighttime sky, Capella. June 20 and 21 finds Comet McNaught above Capella by 3-1/2 and two degrees respectively. This is well within the field of view of binoculars. Place Capella below center and look above (June 20), and above left (June 21). If a fuzzy elongated object is detected, it will be the comet. On June 22, McNaught is just over two degrees to the left of Capella. That distance has doubled by the following day as the comet’s orbit heads it ever closer to the horizon and invisibility. Much success! An online map is available.

[Comet McNaught C/2009 R1]
Comet McNaught will be an easy binocular object under clear skies. The map shows the changing position of McNaught for 4:15 a.m. over a 10 day period. The comet will in no way be as bright as the comet symbols on the map. Gary A. Becker illustration using The Sky...

[Uppasla Observatory at Siding Spring]
Uppsala Observatory (left) located at the Australian National Observatory in New South Wales is dedicated to finding Near Earth Objects (NEOs) that could possibly impact onto the Earth. It was here that C/2009 R1 (McNaught) was discovered by Robert McNaught in September of 2009. The comet is currently debuting in the northern hemisphere, but will rapidly sneak south again. Photo (2001) by Gary A. Becker...

723    JUNE 27, 2010:   Freedom and the Drinking Gourd
High in the northwest, right after dark is the familiar star pattern of the Big Dipper. Three stars arc upward to form the handle, Alkaid, Mizar, and Alioth, while the lower four stars, Phecda, Megrez, Merak, and Dubhe make up the cup. Astronomically speaking, the Big Dipper is as American as apple pie even though professionals do not recognize it as an official constellation. To the slaves of the antebellum South, the Dipper or Drinking Gourd, was the northbound marker along the ephemeral Underground Railroad, and the best beacon to freedom for slaves kept ignorant by their owners. Follow the Drinking Gourd was a song taught to them by itinerant carpenter and abolitionist, Peg Leg Joe. Its lyrics gave slaves in Mississippi and Alabama, where Joe worked, a coded message to follow the Tombigbee and Tennessee rivers to the Ohio River and across to freedom. The song begins with, “When the sun comes back,” which meant start your journey in the spring. It told slaves, “The riverbank makes a very good road,” and that dead trees along the route with markings of Joe’s “left foot, peg foot,” told them that they were on the correct route. Every verse ended with “Follow the drinking Gourd,” which kept those journeying always moving northbound. At the headwaters of the Tombigbee, “between two hills, / There’s another river on the other side,” the Tennessee, so “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” And “When the great big river (Ohio) meets the little river (Tennessee), / Follow the Drinking Gourd.” The dangerous trip along the 800 miles of snaking riverbanks from Mobile AL, took escapees about a year to traverse, bringing them to the Ohio, hopefully, when it was still frozen and easier to cross. Most slaves did not know how to swim. “For the old man (Peg Leg Joe) is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom, / If you follow the Drinking Gourd,” our Big Dipper.

[June Star Map]

[June Moon Phase Calendar]