Column: Spotlight on Saturn, Mars and Jupiter, plus a bright comet

By Bill Smith and the RASCals of Cattle Point, volunteers at Cattle Point DARK SKY Urban Star Park

What’s Up for June? Saturn at its best, plus  good views of Mars, Jupiter and Jupiter’s moons continue from dusk to dawn.

You don’t have to stay up late to see Jupiter, Mars and Saturn this month, because they’re all visible soon after sunset.

Jupiter is the brightest of the three – visible in the western sky all evening. Look high up towards Metchosin and Sooke.

The four Galilean moons of Jupiter are easily visible in binoculars or telescopes. If you think you’re seeing five moons on June 10, one of them is a distant star in the constellation Leo!

For telescope viewers, the time near Mars’ closest approach to Earth, May 30 this year, is the best time to try to see the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos.

It takes patience, very steady skies, and good charts.

I saw both moons in my telescope at Mars Opposition in 2003.

Mars is still large and bright in early June, but it fades as speedy Earth, in its shorter orbit around the sun, passes it.

Saturn has been close to Mars recently.  This month Saturn reaches opposition — when Saturn, Earth and the sun are in a straight line, with Earth in the middle — providing the best and closest views of the ringed beauty and several of its moons.

You’ll be able to make out cloud bands on Saturn.

They’re fainter than the bands of Jupiter, in delicate shades of cream and butterscotch.

Through a telescope you’ll see Saturn’s rings tilted about as wide as they get – 26 degrees.

You’ll also have a ring-side view of the Cassini division, discovered by Giovanni Domenico Cassini, namesake of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, orbiting Saturn since 2004 and continuing through September 2017.

When you look at Saturn through a telescope, you can’t help but see several of its 62 moons.

If you just see one, that’s Titan, 50 per cent larger than our own moon.

Titan and Enceladus are the two moons that NASA believe are places where there is much water and consequently microbial life.

The next few years will see missions to these moons in our quest for life.

A telescope can also reveal many more moons, like Saturn’s two-coloured moon, Iapetus.

It takes three months to orbit Saturn, and it’s fairly easy to see.

There’s a bright comet visible this month, Comet Panstarrs PanStarrs (C/2013 X1).

It’s best seen from the southern hemisphere, but it’s also visible from Oak Bay low in the morning sky over Port Angeles.

Comet Panstarrs can be seen through a telescope near the beautiful Helix Nebula in June, but it is visible all month.

Don’t forget June 21 is the day of the summer solstice.

We hope readers will get up early around 5 a.m. and head to Cattle Point Star Park, or anywhere on the Oak Bay waterfront, including Willows beach, Oak Bay Marina, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, Anderson Park or Gonzales Hill.

Sunrise is at 5:12 a.m. It should be another of our wonderful sunny June mornings. The sun rises much farther north than you expect, over the two hills on San Juan Island.

We’d greatly appreciate our photographers capturing this event.

 

You can catch up on current missions to comets, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn at

jpl.nasa.gov and on all of NASA’s missions at Nasa.gov. Learn about NASA’s missions to the planets and beyond at nasa.gov.

 

Interested in learning more about the  RASCals of Cattle Point?

Visit the group’s Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/VictoriaRASCals/ The RASCals also meet at the Fairfield Community Centre every Monday at 7:30 p.m.

Dark Skies to all friends of Cattle Point Star Park.

 

 

By Bill Smith and the RASCals of Cattle Point, volunteers at Cattle Point DARK SKY Urban Star Park. Summary is from the transcript of “What’s Up in June 2016” by NASA announcer and astronomer Jane Houston Jones, with specific permission for localization to Cattle Point DARK SKY Urban Star Park and the Oak Bay News.

 

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