We are moving into one of the most beautiful months of the year in terms of stargazing. June is the time when the galactic centre starts being prominent in the Night Sky. 

Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the late evening and Mars is in the morning sky. 

Will be also talking about the month of June, where did it get its name from, what is in the starry sky and what are our favourite deep sky objects this month.

At the start of June, the Sun rises in the constellation of Taurus; at the end of June, the Sun rises in the constellation of Gemini.

So just like every other month, there is definitely going to be a Full Moon, a New Moon and some other Moon phase during June. This is important for stargazing, as when the Full Moon is in the sky, this is the worst time to look at deep sky objects. However this is a good time to learn the constellations.  

When does that happen in June 2020?

Moon Phase, Full, https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4768

The Full Moon in New Zealand occurs on the 6th of June. That’s when there is going to be a penumbral lunar eclipse, which we can see from Wellington only if we have direct access to the horizon, as the Moon will be about two degrees above the horizon (that’s the width of two pinkies at arm’s length) setting for the maximum. Maximum will occur at 7:24 AM. 

A penumbral lunar eclipse happens when the Sun, Earth, and the Moon are imperfectly aligned. The Earth blocks some of the Sun’s light from directly reaching the Moon’s surface and covers all or part of the Moon with the outer part of its shadow, also known as the penumbra. It’s like when you have an umbrella, you can be sure that only your head is going to be kept dry. A proper eclipse is like when you stick your head under the umbrella so that is totally covered. A penumbral eclipse is often difficult to tell apart from a natural full Moon as the penumbra is much fainter than the dark core of the Earth’s shadow, the umbra

Moon phase, New https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4768

The Moon will continue to orbit around Earth,  as it does, and soon will move into the first quarter on the 13th of June, and into the New Moon phase on the 21st of June, a date which coincides with the winter solstice here in New Zealand.  Between 13  and 21 of June is the best time to do measurements for light pollution.

Go stargazing for globe at night!!

Globe at Night will run another one of their monthly campaigns there, so if you have not tried it yet, it’s a great opportunity to help the world understand their night environment and become a citizen scientist.

All you have to do is count the number of stars you see in a constellation.

There is help of course on the Globe at Night website they have a full instruction set or on Museums Wellington site, where we are running our own version of this project called “Look after our night sky”. 

Finally,  on the 28 of June the Moon is at its last quarter, which is not so bad for stargazing as the Moon rises after midnight, so do your stargazing before that. Since now in New Zealand it is winter, it will be very cold to hang around outside all night long anyway.

As a neat mnemonic we always say, after the Last Quarter, the Moon is in the sky in the last part of the night. And of course the First Quarter Moon is in the sky in the first part of the night and sets by midnight.  

Most people are familiar with 4 phases of the Moon, some people have 8 but here in New Zealand, the Māori have a name for each phase of the Moon throughout the month. The Māori calendar is called Maramataka and it follows the phases of the Moon so closely that they have precise instructions of what to do and what not to do each phase of the Moon. 

Of course, Māori are part of the greater Polynesian family who inhabit the Pacific Ocean, where unlike Northern or Central Europe or North America, seasons were not so accentuated – think of the people who live in the tropics, but they had to live by the tides of the ocean. So fishing and travelling have been heavily influenced by these, therefore there were good times and bad times to launch on the sea or go fishing. 

Māori, who arrived in New Zealand towards the end of the 1200 and spread across the country, kept measuring time by the Moon but transferred this to their agricultural practices as well. Just like many other cultures in the world, the Māori didn’t measure the time in days but in nights, so a day would start at sunset. There were times when you could see very well by the moonlight, such as Full Moon or days when the night was very dark, as it was the case of the New Moon, which was considered a very bad day for that reason. 

Once a year, Māori observe the heliacal rising of the Pleiades or Rigel in combination with one of the phases of the Moon, to mark the New Year. This custom entered into the mainstream in New Zealand in the last years and we all now look forward to the Matariki fireworks, which is the name of the star cluster Pleiades as observed at it’s heliacal rising around the winter solstice. 

The first day of the month for Māori takes its count from Whiro – the New Moon and most tribes observe the New Year just after the occurrence of the New Moon, combined with the sighting of the heliacal rising of Matariki during Pipiri (approximately June). Whiro is accounted as Te Tahi o Pipiri, which means the first of Pipiri. As with all oral traditions it is difficult to piece together what people were observing 300 hundred years ago and from time to time other interpretations surface, such is the observance of the New Year by the sighting of the heliacal rising of Matariki around the Last Quarter – (or Tangaroa) Moon. There are between 28-32 phases of the Moon that have a name here in New Zealand and about 40 versions of Maramataka, which are very similar but of course every tribe has their own interpretation of the calendar. 

Find out more about Matariki here.

In the Gregorian Calendar, June is a name that we took from Latin Junius. If May was named after “maiores” – elders, June is named after “iuniores” – meaning younger ones as in junior. Also the Roman Goddess Juno, goddess of marriage and wife of Jupiter could have had something to do with the name. Currently Juno is a spacecraft that orbits Jupiter. 

In New Zealand, June is the first month of winter. The Sun sets around 5 pm and rises around 7:30AM. And of course, is the month when we have the shortest day, at the winter solstice, which this year falls on the 21st of June. 

In June, after sunset Southern Cross is high in the sky and Canopus is lower on the horizon, and so are the Magellanic Clouds. Scorpius is also higher in the sky. Scorpius and Sagittarius mark the centre of the galaxy and the visible galactic arm stretches from these constellations to the Southern Cross. So if you’re in doubt where to find the Southern Cross, just follow the Milky Way south.  

Deep Sky

Last month we talked a bit about the beautiful nebulae rising up the night sky beneath Scorpius and some of the amazing galaxies in the Virgo cluster. 

This month we’ll talk about the bit of sky around the constellation of Corvus. Nice and high in the sky in the early evening, Corvus is an easy to spot constellation as it lies quite some distance from the Milky Way and is in an area without too many bright stars, other than Spica and a few magnitude 3 stars. 

The four bright stars that mark out the parallelogram main shape of the constellation are all between 2.6 and 3 magnitude with the two yellow stars, Kraz and Minkar closest to the South Celestial Pole. The other two bright stars are Algorab and Geniah Corvi and if you take a line from Algorab through Kraz and extend it about 3 degrees you’ll see the beautiful globular cluster of M68. It doesn’t quite compete with the giant globular clusters of 47 Tucanae or Omega Centauri but it is still a lovely cluster and well worth a look.

If you make a line from Minkar through Algorab and extend it about 5 degrees, which is the width of three fingers held up at arm’s length, then you’ll see the stunning Sombrero Galaxy. This galaxy is about magnitude 8.3 and is almost edge on with a distinctive dust lane and halo giving the galaxy a shape not too dissimilar to a Sombrero hat.

The Sombrero Galaxy (author)

Also in the vicinity of Corvus but on the other side of Hydra in the constellation of Centaurus is the stunning face on spiral galaxy of M83, also called the Southern Pinwheel. If you make a line from Kraz, in Corvus, to Menkent in Centaurus then at about half way, and a few degrees North of that line, you’ll find the galaxy. It’s magnitude 7 and if you’ve got access to a dark sky location it’s very easy to see a bit of detail in it’s spiral arms.

One of the coolest objects to have a look in the night sky at the moment is a black hole, of course you can’t see it but scientists have discovered one of the closest black holes to us lurking about 1000 light years away in the constellation Telescopium. This constellation is nice and high in our evening sky so you should be able to spot the star that is orbiting the black hole with the naked eye. 

How to find the neighbouring Black Hole

That star is QV Telescopii and it’s a 5th magnitude star lying between Telescopium and Pavo. Astronomers observing this star think it is orbiting the black hole about once every 40 days so though you won’t see the black hole you’ll certainly see where it is and the star that is its partner.

Planets

At the start of the month the planets of Jupiter and Saturn start becoming visible just above the Eastern horizon in the evening and as the month progresses they get higher and higher. Jupiter is the first one to see shortly followed by Saturn. 

We don’t often have eclipses here on Earth, well at least where you can regularly get to them, it seems in the last couple of years the best places to observe eclipses have been in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. 

Well there is another place you can regularly observe eclipses and that is in your very own backyard – and they happen a few times a week. The only difference is you will be observing an eclipse on Jupiter, technically you’re not observing the eclipse you’re observing the shadow of one of Jupiter’s moons cross the giant planet’s disk. 

An eclipse on Jupiter last year (author)

They happen quite often so that there are nearly one or two visible about every week, the first one is visible on the morning of the 4 June from about 3am when the shadow of Io crosses the planet’s disk. They take about 90 minutes so you’ve got plenty of time to catch this marvel of the solar system.

For a really special treat if you stay up until 11pm on the same day, the 4 June, then you can catch two eclipses happening at the same time as the shadows of Europa and Ganymede cross Jupiter’s disk and just in case you miss that one, you can stay up on the 5th of June and at about 9:15 you’ll see Io’s shadow cross the planet.

The other gas giant, Saturn is also in a good position in the evening, though you’ll get the best views after about 10pm in the early part of the month and steadily getting earlier after that. Saturn’s rings are it’s biggest drawcard and this year you may notice the slight change in their aspect as they start closing up in about 6 years time. 

While the rings are wide like this they are perfect for seeing the detail on the rings and if conditions are right, and you have a good telescope, you can see the Cassini division in the rings, which is a dark band in the middle of the rings. If you’ve seen the Cassini spacecraft images of Saturn then you’ll see how complex the rings are with many many bands – and a few moons.

To see Mars you’re going to have to stay up late as the red planet doesn’t rise until after midnight at the start of the month and it doesn’t rise much earlier as the month progresses. By the end of the month the planet is still over 120 million kilometres away but a lot closer than the 150 million kilometres at the start of the month. 

The red planet is getting closer and closer to us as it approaches opposition in mid October. At the moment Mars is less than half the size it will appear in October so the best views of Elon Musk’s future home will be later in the year, though it’s still great to see Mars coming back to our skies.