EYES TO THE SKY June 12 – June 25, 2017

Drunk on daylight, meet Saturn rising - and other flirtations

Solargraph from Sashay - Budapest,  2014Solargraph from Sashay - Budapest, 2014

Closest, brightest and most visible for the year, planet Saturn rises looking like a gold-tinted star above the southeast horizon around the time the Sun sets opposite, in the northwest.

In astronomy, when two celestial bodies appear opposite each other in Earth’s sky, it is known as “opposition.”

This year’s Saturn opposition occurs when Earth in its orbit arrives between the Sun and Saturn at 6am on the 15th. Tonight, three days before precise opposition, sunset is at 8:28 and Saturn rises at 8:25. The yellowish planet is visible in our skies all night, from dusk until dawn, traveling from southeast to southwest all month

Rise and set times are for horizon views, moreover, naked eye observers won’t see sunset and planet rise simultaneously because we have to wait until the sky darkens somewhat for bright stars and planets to come into view.

It could be close to an hour from the rise time of a celestial object to the time it appears above obstructions to the southeast. The affect of observing a planet or star rise or set is particularly celebratory, a little like enjoying the first flicker of the Sun rising or last blink at sunset. Saturn rises a few minutes earlier everyday. By the end of the month it will be well above low buildings and trees when darkness falls.

The next best part of welcoming Saturn into the evening sky is seeing the planet in the company of its celestial neighbors. Gaze to the right (south) of Saturn to reach red star Antares, then sprint further south and up to spot Spica. Jump up to planet Jupiter, the brightest star-like object in the evening sky. Close to midnight on the 12th and 13th, the gibbous moon follows Saturn into the late night and early morning heavens, joining the string of bright planets and stars.

Recapping seasonal statistics from my previous “Eyes to the Sky,” the earliest sunrises of the year in our locale, 5:24am EDT, continue through the 20th. The latest sunsets, 8:31pm are from June 22 through July 2. From June 18 through 24, day length is roughly 15 hours 6 minutes, the longest of the year. Summer Solstice occurs at 12:24am on the 21st.

New book release
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, W.W. Norton & Co.

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