The Night Sky, 18 – 24 June 2018

The planets once again dominate the coming week and the Moon makes it’s regular appearance. If the weather wasn’t the best last week (and it wasn’t in Wellington) then you’ve got the first few days of the week to have another look at the beautiful nebulae between Scorpius and Sagittarius. Anything beyond Wednesday will probably be too washed out with the Moon so here’s hoping for a couple of clear nights early in the week.

Venus, Beehive and M67

Venus is starting to get quite high in the sky at sunset, and it’s the most obvious bright light in the sky given it’s magnitude at +4.0. It’s also just under 75% illuminated so is really starting to show how it goes through phases. If you’re into planetary imaging then it’s a good time to try and get a shot of Venus as with it being so bright you can get out early while the planet is still high in the sky. At sunset it will be just over 20 degrees high, which is not too bad for imaging, though still a bit in the mucky air. The other cool thing that Venus is doing this week is swinging close by the Beehive Cluster. I imagine that it would be a very tricky photo trying to get much detail out of the Beehive with such a bright planet sailing through – but definitely worth a look in a telescope. It will be a bit of challenge because the cluster will be getting very low by the time it’s dark enough to see any of the stars but a telescope should easily pick it out against the brightness of Venus.

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M67 (Credit: 2MASS/IPC/NASA/CalTech)

Straight up from Venus about ten degrees is a really nice cluster and a Messier Catalog object, M67. This cluster is quite a neat contrast to the Beehive Cluster in that where the Beehive is quite young at about 700 million years, M67 is very very old at around 3.2 – 5 billion years old so probably a similar age to our Sun. The make up of stars in the cluster is quite a mix including some hot bright stars that shouldn’t be there, due to the age of the cluster. It is possible these stars were picked up on the clusters journey through space.

Jupiter and Great Red Spot

I really enjoyed viewing Jupiter on Friday night and especially enjoyed observing the Great Red Spot (GRS) as it slowly disappeared as the planet rotated. It really stands out and is one of the great sights of the Solar System, so if you haven’t seen it then this is the week for you. On Monday night you’ll have to stay up late from about 2am to 3:45am to catch a glimpse, though it’s getting pretty low after 3:00am. Tuesday is a lot more civilised with the GRS becoming visible just before 9pm and disappearing again by around 11:30pm. Later on that night at 1:30am Io crosses the planet. On Wednesday evening you’ll have to get out early to catch the GRS as its nearly gone by 7:30pm. Thursday night might be the best night for Jupiter viewing as the evening begins with an Io transit followed almost immediately by the the huge storm crossing the face of the planet. Viewing the GRS is not something you should leave to the future as the storm is slowly shrinking. It used to be three times the size of Earth now it’s about the same size.

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The Great Red Spot from Juno (Cedits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/ Gerald Eichstädt /Seán Doran)

Mars

Two big oppositions are occurring in the very near future, one is the asteroid Vesta and the other, which needs no introduction, is Mars. The red planet is sitting in the middle of Capricorn at the moment and is getting brighter by the day. At the start of the week the planet is 76 million kilometres from Earth and by the end of the week it is 72 million kilometres.

It is a good week for the planets and also worth having a look at the Moon as it’s in it’s early phases – for the first part of the week. Clear skies!