The month starts out with a beautiful close pairing of the moon and Saturn. They rise together in the eastern sky over Mount Baker an hour after sunset at the beginning of June.
I plan to visit the Oak Bay Marina parking lot (aka Spewhung Point) to capture, on my camera, the moon and Saturn shining through Chris Paul’s great art piece – the Salish Sea. I hear Oak Bay has organized its purchase as a permanent treasure for everyone to enjoy.
The dwarf planet Pluto, largest of the Kuiper belt objects, will be near the moon on Friday, June 5. But the moon will be only three days past full and very bright. The June moonlight will make actually seeing Pluto practically impossible, but it’s still nice to know where it is.
A week later, on June 11, asteroid hunters should be able to spot Pallas, the second asteroid to be discovered. When Pallas was discovered in 1802, it was classified as a planet, as were several other asteroids. The discovery of many more asteroids in the mid 1800s eventually led to their reclassification from planets to asteroids.
Ceres, the first asteroid discovered, is now classified as a dwarf planet instead of an asteroid. Ceres meets two of the three requirements of planet-hood. It orbits the sun, and it’s round; but it doesn’t clear its orbit, the same as Pluto and the other dwarf planets.
Ceres reaches opposition at the end of the month – when it appears opposite the sun in the sky. When the sun sets in the west, Ceres rises in the east over Mount Baker and is visible all night long as it takes the Salish Walk of the Planets across the night sky setting over Metchosin.
To see Ceres, which shines at a brightness of magnitude 7, you’ll have to use binoculars or telescopes and look in the southwest sky once the Milky Way has risen. You can observe it from near midnight through pre-dawn.
Speaking of dawn, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft reached its first science orbit around Ceres last month. It will map the surface and attempt to determine what the dwarf planet is made of, through June 2016.
Jupiter and Venus start the month about 20 degrees from each other, but by the end of June they are only two degrees apart.
Watch Venus pass the bright Beehive Star Cluster, M44, from a moderately dark sky on June 13 and 14. Binoculars will help to see the dazzling stars in the cluster. Don’t forget the planets will be on the heavenly arch.
Saturn is visible all night long. It’s definitely worth attending a local star party to see the ringed planet through a telescope, if you haven’t done it before.
Catch all three bright planets in the late evening — Saturn in the southern sky over Port Angeles as Jupiter and Venus are set in the northwest towards Bear Mountain.
You can learn about Small Worlds – asteroids, dwarf planets and comets – at https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/smallworlds/. And you can learn about the New Horizons and Dawn missions and all of NASA’s missions at www.nasa.gov.
Next month NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will become Earth’s first mission to reach Pluto and its system of moons. The event takes place on July 14 after a nine-year journey spanning three billion miles. As Pluto is at Bamfield on our Vancouver Island Walk of the Planets “Orrery”, we are hoping Chris Donison and the “Music-by-the-Sea” team will be celebrating the passing of Pluto in Bamfield July 14. This festival is well worth the short car ride to this wonderful part of the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
Dark skies to all friends of Cattle Point Star Park.
Summary is from the transcript of “What’s Up In June 2015” by NASA announcer and astronomer Jane Houston Jones with specific permission for localization to Cattle Point Urban Star Park and the Oak Bay News.
Bill Smith is a volunteer at Cattle Point Dark Sky Urban Star Park.