Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky -- Month of June 2024

Posted by Guy Pirro   05/31/2024 11:54PM

Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky -- Month of June 2024

The alluring Cat's Eye Nebula (C6, NGC 6543) lies three thousand light-years from Earth. The Cat's Eye was one of the first planetary nebulae to be discovered, yet it remains one of the most complex in structure. A classic planetary nebula, the Cat's Eye represents the final, brief phase in the life of a Sun-like star. This nebula's dying central star is believed to have produced the simple, outer pattern of dusty concentric shells by shrugging off outer layers in a series of regular convulsions. But the formation of the beautiful, more complex inner structures is not well understood. This cosmic eye is over half a light-year across. Gazing into the Cat's Eye, astronomers may well be seeing the fate of our Sun, destined to enter its own planetary nebula phase of evolution in about 5 billion years. [Video and Content Credits: NASA, the Office of Public Outreach – Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and JPL – Caltech, Preston Dyches, Christopher Harris, and Lisa Poje with subject matter guidance provided by Bill Dunford, Gary Spiers, Lyle Tavernier, and Molly Wasser] [Image Credit:  Peter Bresler, Astromart Gallery Contributor - https://www.astromart.com/gallery/user/191 ]


Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky -- Month of June 2024

Welcome to the night sky report for June 2024 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. All the planetary action continues to be in the morning sky, with Saturn and Mars rising in the early morning hours. They are joined later in the month by Jupiter. A number of online sources have created excitement about a "Parade of Planets" that will be visible in the morning sky in early June. Unfortunately we are in for a bit of a disappointment because in reality, only two of the six planets (Saturn and Mars) will actually be visible. In early June, Jupiter and Mercury will be at or below the horizon in the morning twilight and not visible… And Uranus and Neptune are too far and too faint to be seen without a telescope, especially as the morning sky brightens. During the month, look for the Hercules constellation, which will lead you to a globular star cluster with hundreds of thousands of densely packed stars. Globular cluster M13 (the Hercules Cluster, NGC 6205) is best observed with a telescope, but binoculars will reveal it as a fuzzy spot. You can also spot Draco the dragon, which will point you to the Cat’s Eye Nebula (C6, NGC 6543). The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.

On June 2nd in the hour before sunrise, reddish Mars hangs beneath the crescent Moon. Find the pair low in the east with Saturn lurking nearby. The following morning, on June 3rd, the Moon has moved so that it sits beneath Mars.

During the last week of June, giant Jupiter re-emerges as a morning planet, after passing behind the Sun, from our point of view on Earth, over the past couple of months. By June 24th, you can find it about 10 degrees above the horizon as the morning sky begins to brighten. It climbs a little higher each morning after that as July approaches.

Then on June 27th, look for the Moon with Saturn. The pair rise around midnight, and by dawn you'll find them high in the southern sky. They appear super close together this morning – close enough to appear in the same field of view through binoculars.

When you spot bright or moving objects in the night sky, it might not be immediately clear what you're looking at. Is that a planet, or just a bright star? Is it a satellite, or maybe just an airplane? Here are a few quick tips on how to tell the difference.

First, there are five planets that are easily observed with the unaided eye. Of these, two planets – Venus and Jupiter – can sometimes appear incredibly bright, like shining beacons in the sky. The other planets are much less bright, but still generally shine as brightly as bright stars.

The big tipoff that you're looking at a star and not a planet is that planets tend to shine steadily, whereas stars twinkle. Stars are so far away that they're just points of light, and ripples in our atmosphere easily distort them, causing the familiar flicker. The planets are relatively closeby, being here in our solar system. Through binoculars or a telescope, instead of a single point, planets show us a tiny disk or crescent that's illuminated by the Sun. So even though they appear star-like to the eye, the light from a planet is coming from a slightly more spread-out area, making planets appear more constant in brightness. Both planets and stars rise in the east and set in the west, and they move very slowly across the sky during the night.

But what if you see an object that's moving? Distant aircraft are usually pretty easy to identify, because they follow a slow, steady path that's straight or gently curving. They have exterior lights that flash in a regular pattern, often including a red beacon.

Satellites tend to be most visible in the hour or so after dark or before dawn, when it's night here on the surface, but the satellites are high enough in the sky to be illuminated by sunlight. They're generally fainter than aircraft, and move in slow, very steady, very straight paths. They might briefly flare in brightness, but they don't have lights that blink.

The International Space Station is an exception, because it's very bright, and is often visible for long enough to observe the curving path of its orbit. But it doesn't have flashing lights you can see from the ground, and it does something else satellites do:  Satellites often fade out of view as they travel into Earth's shadow, or fade into view as they emerge. And occasionally you might see a train of satellites moving slowly and silently in formation.

One other sight that's sometimes confusing is rocket launches that happen soon after sunset or before sunrise. Similar to spotting satellites, this is when it's darker here on the ground, but launching rockets climb high enough to be illuminated by sunlight. When rockets launching at these times of day get really high in altitude, their exhaust can be brilliantly illuminated, and sometimes you might even see spiral or circular shapes that slowly grow and then dissipate, as a spent rocket stage empties its propellant into space.

With so much to see in the night sky, it's helpful to be familiar with some of these common sights, so you can get on with your skywatching and investigate whatever mysteries and wonders you're in search of.

Facing southward early on June evenings, you'll notice two particularly bright stars high in the sky. They are Spica and Arcturus.

Blue-white Spica is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, the maiden. It's located about 250 light years away, and is actually two stars orbiting each other every 4 days at a distance far closer than Mercury orbits our Sun.

Orange giant Arcturus is the brightest star in Bootes, the herdsman. It's the fourth brightest star in the sky. It's much closer than Spica, at a distance of about 37 light years. It's also quite an old star, compared to our Sun, at an age of 7-8 billion years.

Also on June evenings, you'll notice the stars of the Summer Triangle – Vega, Deneb, and Altair – rising in the couple of hours after dark, and heralding the long, warm nights of Northern summer. The Triangle rises earlier each month as summer progresses.

June 21 is the Summer Solstice for the Northern Hemisphere, and Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. For the north, it's the longest day of the year, as the Sun traces its highest, longest path across the sky. More hours of sunlight, in addition to the more direct angle of the Sun overhead, translate into warmer summertime temperatures for our planet's summer hemisphere. The situation is reversed for those living south of the equator, where it's the shortest day of the year, during the cool months of winter.

The June summer solstice has another interesting claim to fame. It helped the Ancient Greeks, 2200 years ago, to understand the size of our planet with remarkable accuracy. A scholar named Eratosthenes noted the difference in the length of the shadows cast by poles placed in the ground in two cities, 800 kilometers apart, at noon on the day of the solstice. One cast no shadow at all and the other cast a significant shadow. By comparing the shadows with the separation of the two cities, Eratosthenes deduced that Earth was about 40,000 kilometers in circumference, which is the actual value.

He was also the first to calculate the tilt of Earth's axis – which, after all, is what's responsible for the solstices and for the seasons themselves.

The balmy nights of June are short, but filled with fine sights for the backyard stargazer. Look for the Big Dipper riding high in the northwest. Its handle points toward Arcturus: the fourth-brightest star in the night sky. Arcturus is part of the constellation Bootes, the herdsman.

Bootes also contains a double star called Epsilon Bootes, or Izar. The striking pair of stars appears yellow-orange and bluish in a modest telescope.

To the left of Bootes sits a semicircle of stars known as Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown.

Next to Corona Borealis, we find the dim constellation of Hercules, the strongman of Greek mythology. June is an excellent time to observe one of the best-known globular star clusters – M13, also known as the Hercules Cluster. Globular clusters are spherical collections of stars, tightly packed together in their centers. M13 itself contains several hundred thousand stars. 

Globular clusters are also extremely old. The stars in M13 are thought to be around 12 billion years old, which is approaching the age of the universe itself. Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is known to have about 150 globular clusters. They orbit outside the galaxy's disk, traveling tens of thousands of light-years above and below its spiral arms and most of its stars.

The Hercules Cluster is best observed with a telescope, and larger telescopes will allow you to see more of the cluster's stars. But you can also find it with a pair of binoculars, where it'll look like a hazy little spot.

Find M13 in the constellation Hercules, which is high in the east in the first couple of hours after dark in June. First look for the bright stars Vega and Arcturus. Then find the four stars that comprise "the Keystone," which is the pattern making up the central part of Hercules. You'll find M13 about a third of the way between the two stars on the western, or leading, side of the Keystone.

Just outside the Keystone sits another globular cluster: M92 (NGC6341). M92 is more distant than the Hercules Cluster, and looks smaller and fainter through a telescope. An image from Hubble shows many bright, old red giant stars in its crowded core.

North of Hercules, breathing fire on his feet, lays Draco the dragon. Draco’s long body curls around the Little Dipper. Located along the dragon’s coils is NGC 6543—the Cat’s Eye Nebula, a cloud of expanding and glowing gas from a dying star.

On summer evenings, you may notice a curved grouping of stars crawling across the southern sky, among them a brilliant red beacon. This is the constellation Scorpius, the scorpion, and beginning in June, it's the prime time to look for it.

This grouping of stars has been thought of as having the shape of a scorpion going back to ancient times in the Mediterranean and Middle East. In the Greek myth, the scorpion's deadly sting brought down the great hunter Orion, and that's why – the story goes – we find them on opposite sides of the sky today.

This pattern of stars also been seen as part of a great dragon, in China, and the fish hook of the demigod Maui in Hawaii. That fish-hook shape also forms the tail of the scorpion.

At the beginning of June, if you're in the northern hemisphere, the scorpion's tail might still be below the horizon for you, early in the evening. It rises over the first few hours after dark. But by the end of the month, the scorpion's tail will be above the horizon after sunset for most stargazers.

That bright, beacon-like star in Scorpius is Antares, which is a huge red giant star and one of the brightest in the sky. It forms the blazing heart of the scorpion. So look toward the south and use Antares as your guide to find the constellation Scorpius.

Finally in June, a quick introduction to the constellation Lyra, one of the smaller constellations that's home to one of the brightest stars. It represents a lyre, or harp, played by the musician Orpheus in Greek mythology. In Arab cultures, as well as ancient Egypt and India, Lyra was seen as an eagle. And the Inca of South America saw it as a llama.

Find Lyra by looking for Vega, which is the western-most of the three bright stars in the Summer Triangle. In the Northern Hemisphere, you'll find it halfway up the eastern sky in the first couple of hours after dark in June. Vega is by far the brightest star in Lyra. It's the fifth brightest star in the sky and the second brightest in the Northern Hemisphere, after Sirius. 

A pair of binoculars will help you see the other stars in Lyra, which form a sort of parallelogram hanging beneath it. It's sometimes described as looking a bit like a diamond ring, with Vega as the diamond.

And that's not the only ring in Lyra. It's also home to the famous Ring Nebula, where a star has blown off most of its outer layers, leaving behind a remnant star known as a white dwarf.






The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard.

The following Deep Sky Objects are found in constellations that peak during the month. Some can be viewed with a small telescope, but the majority will require a moderate to large telescope. The following is adapted from my personal viewing list: "The Guy Pirro 777 Best and Brightest Deep Sky Objects."


Constellation: Bootes

NGC 5248                    Galaxy C45,                 Herschel 400 H34-1

NGC 5466                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H9-6

NGC 5557                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H99-1

NGC 5676                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H189-1

     - NGC 5660             Galaxy             Paired with H189-1

NGC 5689                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H188-1


Constellation: Corona Borealis



Constellation: Draco

NGC 3147                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H79-1

NGC 4125                    Galaxy                         P26

     - NGC 4121             Galaxy                         Paired with P26

NGC 4236                    Galaxy                         C3

NGC 5866                    Galaxy                         M102, Herschel 400 H215-1

NGC 5906                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H759-2

NGC 5982                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H764-2

NGC 6503                    Galaxy                         P80

NGC 6543                    Planetary Nebula        C6, Herschel 400 H37-4 Cat’s Eye Nebula

NGC 6832                    Open Cluster               P27


Constellation: Hercules

IC 4593                        Planetary Nebula        P158 White Eyed Pea Nebula

NGC 6205                    Globular Cluster          M13 Great Hercules Cluster

NGC 6207                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H701-2

NGC 6210                    Planetary Nebula        P34

NGC 6229                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H50-4

NGC 6341                    Globular Cluster          M92


Constellation: Libra

NGC 5897                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H19-6


Constellation: Lyra

NGC 6720                    Planetary Nebula        M57 Ring Nebula

NGC 6779                    Globular Cluster          M56

NGC 6791                    Open Cluster               P162


Constellation: Ophiuchus

IC 4634                        Planetary Nebula        P168

IC 4665                        Open Cluster               P36

NGC 6171                    Globular Cluster          M107, Herschel 400 H40-6

NGC 6218                    Globular Cluster          M12

NGC 6235                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H584-2

NGC 6254                    Globular Cluster          M10

NGC 6266                    Globular Cluster          M62

NGC 6273                    Globular Cluster          M19

NGC 6284                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H11-6

NGC 6287                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H195-2

NGC 6293                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H12-6

NGC 6304                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H147-1

NGC 6309                    Planetary Nebula        P236 Box Nebula

NGC 6316                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H45-1

NGC 6325                    Globular Cluster          P169

NGC 6333                    Globular Cluster          M9

NGC 6342                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H149-1

NGC 6355                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H46-1

NGC 6356                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H48-1

NGC 6366                    Globular Cluster          P37

NGC 6369                    Planetary Nebula        Herschel 400 H11-4 Little Ghost Nebula

NGC 6401                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H44-1

NGC 6402                    Globular Cluster          M14

NGC 6426                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H587-2

NGC 6517                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H199-2

NGC 6572                    Planetary Nebula        P38 Emerald Nebula

NGC 6633                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H72-8


Constellation: Scorpius

NGC 6093                    Globular Cluster          M80

NGC 6121                    Globular Cluster          M4

NGC 6124                    Open Cluster               C75

NGC 6139                    Globular Cluster          P53

NGC 6144                    Globular Cluster          Herschel 400 H10-6

NGC 6153                    Planetary Nebula        P189

NGC 6178                    Open Cluster               P111

NGC 6192                    Open Cluster               P190

NGC 6216                    Open Cluster               P210

NGC 6231                    Open Cluster               C76

NGC 6242                    Open Cluster               P54

NGC 6249                    Open Cluster               P191

NGC 6259                    Open Cluster               P112

NGC 6268                    Open Cluster               P192

NGC 6281                    Open Cluster               P55

NGC 6302                    Planetary Nebula        C69 Butterfly Nebula

NGC 6318                    Open Cluster               P249

NGC 6322                    Open Cluster               P56

NGC 6374                    Open Cluster               P193

NGC 6383                    Open Cluster               P57

NGC 6388                    Globular Cluster          P58

NGC 6396                    Open Cluster               P194

NGC 6400                    Open Cluster               P195

NGC 6404                    Open Cluster               P250

NGC 6405                    Open Cluster               M6 Butterfly Cluster

NGC 6416                    Open Cluster               P59

NGC 6425                    Open Cluster               P113

NGC 6441                    Globular Cluster          P114

NGC 6451                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H13-6

NGC 6453                    Globular Cluster          P115

NGC 6475                    Open Cluster               M7 Ptolemy Cluster

NGC 6496                    Globular Cluster          P60


Constellation: Serpens Caput

NGC 5904                    Globular Cluster          M5

NGC 6118                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H402-2 Blinking Galaxy


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