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June 6 and 11, 2018
I started typing the text on this page at 9:15 p.m. EST. I never did take the time to learn how to type properly, so I am presently staring at the keyboard as I type using the middle finger of my right hand and pressing the shift or caps key with the index finger of my left hand when required. I will record the time when I am finished creating this page to give you an idea of how long it took me to create.
I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I have not had a telescope out yet this year- not even once for a quick look. I was hoping to get out for some viewing in May during a time when the Moon would not interfere by washing out the dim deep space objects with its brightness, but the weather did not cooperate. I am hoping to get some dark sky viewing in either this coming weekend or shortly after, as the Moon should not be a factor. My dark sky viewing site is about an hour and a half from home by car, and I usually don't spend the night up there. I only make the trip if weather conditions are good, and the Moon will not be in the sky to interfere.
This month is a good month for planetary viewing from my location in the greater Toronto area. The 5 naked eye planets will all be in the sky this month, allthough the planet Mercury will only be in a good viewing position for several weeks. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars put on a pretty good show though.
Venus and Jupiter are both easy to find as soon as the sky begins to darken right after sunset. Venus at this time is low in the sky towards the northwest and looks like the brightest "star" in the sky. Through a telescope Venus will look like a smaller version of the Moon, but due to the planet's cloud cover no surface features are visible through amateur telescopes. Due to the fact that Venus orbits the Sun closer than Earth does, the planet goes through phases just like the Moon does from our point of view. Presently Venus appears to be about 3/4 lit from our angle, which is similar to how the Moon would look between a full moon and last quarter phase.
Jupiter appears to the south about 1/3 of the way up from the horizon at my location at sunset. Jupiter stands out as a very bright "star", and is only slightly dimmer than Venus to the naked eye. The Earth passed between Jupiter and the Sun last month, so we are currently pretty close to it. As the months go by, the Earth will gradually get farther from Jupiter due to the fact that we orbit the Sun faster. As a result, Jupiter will slowly get smaller in size from our viewpoint. Unlike Venus, Jupiter shows a lot of detail when viewed through a telescope. Even a small telescope will show Jupiter's 2 main cloud bands which appear as stripes on the planet, as well as up to 4 of Jupiter's largest moons which will look like dim stars through a telescope. Larger telescopes will reveal more cloud bands, and possibly the Great Red Spot which asppears as an oval patch in one of the cloud bands. The Great Red Spot is not always visible because as Jupiter rotates on its axis it goes in and out of view from our point.
Saturn clears the southeastern horizon around 10 p.m., and gets higher and moves west as the night goes on. The Earth passes between Saturn and the Sun this month, so it will be as large as it gets for the next year or so. Saturn is visible to the naked eye. Allthough it is nowhere near as bright as Venus or Jupiter, it is the brightest "star" in its area of the sky. Allthough Saturn is visible after sunset, it would be better to wait a few hours for it to get higher in the sky to view it through a telescope. The lower any object in space is in our sky, the more of the Earth's atmosphere you have to look through to see it, this means you are looking through more moving air, pollution, and smog which will mask and blur the image. I'm sure some of you have seen the Moon as it rises above the horizon and at times it has an orange tint to it. That is the result of all the smog and pollution. If you look at that same moon several hours later, it will appear whiter and brighter. If you are having trouble locating Saturn, look for it near the constellation Sagittarius. There is a section of Sagittarius that looks like a teapot complete with a handle, spout, and lid. Saturn will be right above the lid. Even a small telescope will show Satrun's ring system. Larger telescopes will show gaps between the rings, and possibly even cloud bands, allthough they are not as obvious as those of Jupiter. I have seen cloud bands on Saturn on good nights of seeing through a 5 inch apo refractor.
The Planet Mars rises above the horizon around 1 a.m. in the southeastern sky. It is brighter than Saturn, but not quite as bright as Jupiter. Mars looks like a star to the naked eye, but it has a distinct reddish tinge to it. The Earth will be passing between Mars and the Sun in late July, so Mars will be rising earlier and getting bigger and brighter between now and then. Allthough Mars is closer to us than Saturn or Jupiter, it is also much smaller. I have seen the icecaps at Mars' poles and some markings on the planet's surface, but it is not quite as nice to look at as Jupiter or Saturn. Both Saturn and Mars appear better through a telescope when they are higher in the sky. Like anything else in the night sky they are affected by how much of the Earth's atmosphere you are looking through to see them. They appear much better through a telescope the higher they get.
The planet Mercury will become visible during the second half of the month. Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun. As a result it not only moves farther from night to night than the other planets due to it's increased speed orbiting the Sun, but Mercury never gets very high above the horizon during its windows of visibility before it gets closer to the Sun from our viewpoint as it orbits. Mercury will appear in the western sky later this month, and is visible to the naked eye. For more information about visible planets and their locations, I encourage you to visit the Heavens Above website. I have posted a link to the Heavens Above website which can be accessed through my links page.
I would like to also point out that this is a good time of the year to view several of my favorite galaxy targets. All 4 of these are on the Messier list of deep sky objects. They are M81, M82, M51, and M101. They are all in the neighborhood of the Big Dipper portion of the constellation Ursa Major, which is probably one of the most easily recognizable star patterns in the northern hemishpere sky. This part of the sky will be closer to the horizon in the evening sky as the months pass, so this would be a good time to view objects there. Look towards the north to find it, and look fairly high in the sky. On the map shown below the black dots are stars, the green lines show the outline of the star pattern, the blue dots are galaxies, and the red dotted lines are used as locator lines to find the galaxies.
M81 and M82 are very close to each other, and will be in the same field of view through a telescope at low or medium power. To find them start at the bottom of the dipper's bowl on the handle side and imagine a line towards the top of the bowl on the other side. If you continue that line in the same direction, and the same distance it passes between those 2 bowl stars, you will find the galaxies. They should be visible at low power through a telescope with a 4" aperture (diametet of lens or main mirror). Once located, you can try different magnifications to see if some detail can be seen. Like all galaxies as seen through a telescope, the larger the aperture the better the view.
M51, or the Whirlpool Galaxy as it is also known, is one of the finest galaxies to look at visually. It is also visible through a 4" telescope as a smudge, but to see it's fine spiral structure a larger telescope is better.
M101 is a large, dim spiral galaxy seen almost head on from our viewpoint. Allthough it is large in size, it is very dim, much dimmer than the other galaxies mentioned here. To find it, use the first 2 stars in the big dipper's handle as the base of an equilateral triangle. Imagine a 3rd point above the handle of the big dipper that would make an equilateral triangle. The galaxy M101 is very close to that point (it is slightly closer to the 2 handle stars, but only very slightly). I have seen M101 quite easily through my 10" Newtonian reflector, but have never looked for it through anything smaller. I imagine it would be more difficult to see than any of the other galaxies mentioned here.
The time is now 10:50 p.m. and I have finished typing. I will now proofread this page and hopefully will not miss any typos I may have made. Thank you for dropping by this month, and clear skies to all.
OBSERVING NOTE FOR JUNE 11, 2018- I had my 132mm apo refractor out this evening here in town to look at Jupiter. The 2 major cloud bands were easily visible, as well as what appeared to be a shadow of one of Jupiter's moons along one of the bands. I could also see 2 more smaller cloud bands closer to Jupiter's poles, as well as both equatorial zones at the planet's poles. Saturn was visible very low on the horizon but appeared dim, orange, and unfocussed due to the fact that it was so low. Mars was nowhere near coming up by the time we packed up the telescope before midnight. I am really looking forward to more planetary viewing in another month or so. Jupiter will still be visible in the night sky, and Saturn and Mars will be better placed for some good viewing.