Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Stargazing in June

By David Reneke

What’s in the night sky this month?

June nights are pretty cool, so you’re going to need a blanket, a pillow or two, your binoculars and perhaps a warm glass of Milo or a fine red to keep warm while you stargaze. On a clear night depending on your age and your eyesight, you can see anywhere up to about 1,500 to 2,000 stars. Introduce city lights and pollution, and you see less and less.

This month there’s a planetary parade, a meteorite shower and a neat lunar eclipse. So, are you ready? I’ll meet you in the backyard! Start by looking west about an hour after sunset. See that very bright star about two fists just above the western horizon? That’s Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Thousands of years ago, ancient Egyptians used it to work out the length of our year.

Lying near the centre of the Milky Way and rising in the east is really the only zodiac constellation that really looks like its namesake, the giant constellation of Scorpius or the ‘Scorpion.’ It’s one of the easiest constellations to pick out as it’s also one of the few that does look like what it’s supposed to represent. Now, look for the red heart of the Scorpion, the star known as Antares. It’s a red giant star hundreds of times bigger than our Sun!

Scorpius is a fabulous part of the sky to scan with a pair of binoculars. You’ll need to keep them nice and still, and the best way I think is to lie down and put a pillow on your chest and rest your arms on that and scan the sky. As Scorpius is rising in the east, Orion (the Saucepan) is just disappearing in the western sky.

In June, the Southern Cross is placed very nicely, high in the southern sky and contains ‘The Jewel Box’ beside it. It’s a magnificent cluster of young stars. Look for it with your binoculars or small scope.

The eastern morning sky in June is dominated by two very bright planets, and they are, of course, Venus and Jupiter. After sunset use your telescope or borrow a friend’s to look at the planet Saturn high in the north. You should be able to see those magnificent rings just opening up.

Now, get ready for a pretty neat sight. On the morning of June 16th there will be a full Moon and a total lunar eclipse! We’ll get a good view across Australia as the Moon starts to move into the Earth’s shadow at 4.22am for the eastern states. Totality begins an hour later. This is when the moon is expected to take on a reddish glow. It’s a stunning sight and yep, you can look directly at it. It won’t hurt your eyes.

Get David’s free astronomy newsletter at www.davidreneke.com