Mars steals the show at the start of the month. It is the brightest the planet has been in over a decade, so be sure to catch it rising in the east at sunset. Below Mars is Saturn, which reaches opposition this month and is also shining at its best for the year. The bright planet Jupiter can be found over in the north.
Jupiter has disappeared below the horizon by midnight, but Mars and Saturn can be seen until morning. By sunrise they are setting in the west, and over towards the east, the planet Mercury is just rising above the horizon.
Sunrise & Sunset Times
The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Wednesday 15th, at a distance of 405,021 km.
The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Friday 3rd, at a distance of 361,141 km.
Let The Moon Be Your Guide
The Moon can be used as a pointer to find other objects in the sky.
- Before sunrise on the 3rd, the waning crescent Moon sits above faint Mercury.
- The Last Quarter Moon sits to the right of Jupiter on the 12th.
- On the evening of the 15th, the waxing gibbous Moon is below Spica (Virgo).
- On the 17th, the Moon is near bright red Mars.
- The red supergiant star Antares (Scorpius) sits to the right of the Moon on the 18th.
- Then on the 19th, the Moon travels across the sky with Saturn.
Mercury is low to the north-east horizon just before sunrise. The thin crescent Moon sits just above Mercury on the 3rd.
Venus is too close to the Sun to be seen this month.
Earth experiences the Winter Solstice on Tuesday 21st. At 8:34am the Sun has reached its furthest north for the year and begins moving southward. From Melbourne, the Sun travels low across the sky and it is our shortest day, with just 9 hours and 32 minutes of daylight.
Mars begins the month looking absolutely stunning. Having passed opposition last month (ie. opposite the Sun), it is relatively close to Earth and at the start of the month it shines very brightly. By the end of the month it will have faded somewhat as Earth and Mars begin to draw apart. The red star below Mars is Antares, the red supergiant star in Scorpius. It’s easy to compare the steady glow of the planet compared to the twinkling light of the star. On the 17th, the Moon sits to the left of Mars.
Jupiter is now high in the northern sky at sunset. It continues to follow behind Regulus, the ‘little king’ star of Leo, the lion that sits to the left of Jupiter. The First Quarter Moon is near Jupiter on the 12th.
Saturn reaches opposition on the 3rd, which means that it lies on the opposite side of the Earth to the Sun. This is when the planet will appear at its best and brightest, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise. It can be found near the constellation of Scorpius. And because Saturn and Earth are both on the same side of the Sun, it also means they are at their closest, which makes Saturn a little brighter than usual. On the evening of the 19th, the Moon will be just below Saturn.
There are a number of meteor showers occurring in Scorpius and Sagittarius this month. Although low in number (less than 10 per hour) the shower members can often be spectacular, appearing slow and bright with many displaying a yellow/orange colour. The best time to see meteors is after midnight.
Stars & Constellations
Low in the west we have our last look at Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Its constellation of Canis Major (the great dog) will soon disappear from our sky for the winter.
Above and to the south of Sirius is the second brightest star in the night sky, Canopus in Carina (the keel). Looking further south and low to the horizon you may be able to identify the bright star Achernar in Eridanus (the river) at its lowest point in the sky. Directly above Achernar, the Southern Cross reaches its highest point and remains there majestically during the winter months.
Looking eastward, the bright red star Antares, in the constellation of Scorpius (the scorpion), can be seen. Below it lies the teapot shape of Sagittarius (the archer). The region around Sagittarius is a rich area of the sky to explore with binoculars. It points towards the centre of our Milky Way Galaxy, which lies 26 000 light years away and contains a supermassive black hole.
International Space Station
From Earth, the ISS appears as a bright star that steadily moves across the sky. It can often be seen from Melbourne, for example at:
6:07am – 6:12am, Sunday 5th June.
The Station will first appear in the north-west and travel past the bright star Achernar (Eridanus, the river) before disappearing in the south-east near the bright star Canopus (Carina, the keel).
Predictions of when to see the ISS can be obtained from the Heaven's Above website.
On This Day
1st 2002, the Czech Republic becomes the first country to ban light pollution.
1st 2008, the Phoenix Mars Lander was the first spacecraft to scoop Martian soil.
6th 1971, Soyuz 11 (USSR) was launched. It carried the first people to a space station (Soviet Salyut 1).
10th 2003, the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit (USA) was launched.
11th 1985, a balloon (from Vega 1, USSR) is used to explore another planet, Venus.
13th 2010, the Hayabusa (Japan) spacecraft returned the first asteroid samples to Earth.
14th 1965, Mariner 4 (USA) returns the first close-up images of Mars.
15th 1999, a near-miss for the International Space Station as space debris passes just 7 km from the station.
16th 1963, Valentina V. Tereshkova (USSR) launched on Vostok 6 becomes the first woman in space.
18th 1983, Sally Ride is the first US woman in space (on the space shuttle Challenger).
20th 1939, Germany launches the first liquid-fuel rocket plane.
21st 2004, SpacceShipOne (USA) launched to become the first privately-funded human space flight.
22nd 1978, Dr James W. Christy (USA) discovers Pluto’s satellite Charon.
30th 1971, the Soyuz 11 (USSR) three-man crew die upon re-entry to Earth.
30th 1908, a meteor explodes over Tunguska, Russia, destroying 2,200 km² of forest