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Star Charts


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June 2018

After Sunset

As the sky begins to darken after sunset, look to the west for brilliant Venus. This ‘evening star’ will remain visible in the early evening through late summer.

In the the spring, the Big Dipper is easy to find, high in the north after sunset. Connect the dots to imagine a big spoon or ladle high above.

The Big Dipper is not officially a constellation; it’s what astronomers sometimes call an asterism. It’s a familiar name for this pattern of stars, especially used by observers in the United States, but it’s not one of the 88 constellations recognized by astronomers worldwide. Ursa Major the Great Bear is the official constellation here, but you’ll need dark skies to see its fainter stars.

Use the two stars at the end of the Dipper’s bowl to lead you to Polaris, also known as the North Star. Polaris is not a particularly bright star, but it does remain fixed in the sky throughout the night and throughout the year, When you face the North Star, you’re facing due north. Polaris is at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper. This group of stars is also officially known as Ursa Minor the Little Bear.

Imagine poking a hole in the bottom of the Dipper to let the water drip out. The water falls onto the back of Leo the Lion. The head and mane of the lion are represented by a group of stars that looks something like a backwards question mark. Other stargazers imagine the top hook of a coat hanger, or a sickle in this group of stars. The “dot” at the bottom of the question mark is Regulus, the brightest star in Leo. It marks the heart of the lion.

Go back to the Big Dipper once more and follow its curved handle to trace an ‘arc’ to Arcturus, the orange colored star in Boötes the Herdsman. Then speed on to Spica, the single bright star in Virgo the Maiden. Neither of these constellations has any other bright stars. Even under dark skies away from city lights, it’s hard to imagine these mythological figures just by connecting the dots.

Not too far from Spica is the bright planet Jupiter. If you have binoculars, you may be able to see the giant planet’s four largest moons. Watch Jupiter’s moons over several nights to watch them orbit around their parent planet. If you have trouble steadying your binocular view on Jupiter, try leaning them up against the side of a building or another steady surface.

A small telescope not only shows the moons of Jupiter, but also its cloud bands. Jupiter has stripes! Look for our own Moon next to Jupiter on the 23rd and 24th.

Look to the east for the constellation Hercules and the globular cluster known as M-13. Using binoculars, you may be able to spot a round-shaped glow. If that blurry glow doesn’t seem impressive, just remember that it’s a collection of around 300,000 stars, at a distance of over 22,000 light years, at an age of over 11 billion years old.

Stay Up Late

Stay out past midnight and look toward the east to see three bright stars that make up the Summer Triangle. Low in the southeast you may find the bright red star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion. To the east of Scorpius is Sagittarius the Archer. To modern eyes, this constellation looks more like a teapot. Just above the teapot’s lid is Saturn, another great target for small telescopes. Look for the Moon between Mars and Saturn on the 26th.

A Look Ahead

As the Earth orbits the Sun throughout the year, the constellations rise and set just a little bit earlier every day. You won’t see much difference from night to night, but you will over the course of weeks or months. What we see in today’s pre-dawn sky is a preview of the early evening sky in later months. Go out before dawn this month for a look ahead at the summer night sky.

Just before dawn, the Summer Triangle is high the sky and Scorpius crawls along the southern horizon. Autumn constellations such as Pegasus the Flying Horse and Andromeda the Princess are rising in the east.

Meanwhile, Saturn will be high in the south, and just to its east will sit bright Mars. Look for the Moon between the two planets on the morning of the 2nd. Don’t confuse Mars with its rival Antares in Scorpius. Antares is a red supergiant star. Its brightness and color led to its ancient name, meaning “anti-Ares.” Ares is the Greek name for the Roman god Mars. So as you watch this part of the sky, make sure you know which one is Mars, and which one is Not-Mars! If you’re not sure, look to see if it’s twinking. Stars twinkle, planets don’t!

Mars is heading towards a close approach with Earth this summer. It will gradually get brighter, reaching maximum brightness around the end of July. By that time it will be in our evening skies, just rising as the Sun sets. It will be close enough that small telescopes may be able to reveal usually hard-to-see surface features like the polar ice caps.

800 Fort Negley Blvd. Nashville, TN 37203
Hours: 10:00am - 5:00pm
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