EVENTS AND NAKED EYE VIEWING
NOTE: All Sky Charts Courtesy of SkyGuide App Unless Otherwise noted.
June 16 (Saturday) Venus and the Crescent Moon. Brilliant Venus, now the "Evening Star" for the rest of Spring and most of the Summer, will perform a duet with the Moon about 15 degrees above the the WNW horizon an hour after sunset (9:30 PM MDT). Taos residents will get the best view because of their unobstructed view of the western horizon. If you have a DSLR camera, this will make a beautiful picture. You need to set your camera on a tripod and take some test shots on a previous night so you get just the right exposure setting. Depending on your schedule and how you want the background sky to look, you can get some great photos from pre-twilight at 8:45 PM to when Venus and the Moon set at 10:30 PM.
You'll find a sliver of a crescent Moon along with dazzling Venus and the dim heads of Gemini (Castor and Pollux) just a bit north of west after sunset. It should be quite a sight with the silhouette of the mountains in the foreground.
June 21 (Thursday) Summer Solstice. At precisely 4:07 PM MDT (about an hour and a half before sunrise) the Sun will reach its furthest point north for the year. It will already be shifting back southward when you see it rise to mark the longest day of sunshine in the northern hemisphere. "Sol" is Latin for "Sun" and "stice" is derived from the Latin word "sistere" which means, "to stand still." The Sun seems to pause at its most northern point for a brief moment before starting its long journey to its southern most point at the Winter solstice. For us this means many days of fun in the Sun. Of course, the Sun doesn't move at all. It's the Earth's orbit and its tilted axis with respect to the Sun that causes this apparent motion.
June 27 (Wednesday) Saturn at Opposition. Opposition is a term astronomers use to mark the spot in Earth's orbit that brings it closest to its respective outer planets. Saturn is the planet most of us want to see because its beautiful rings make it a standout showpiece with respect to all the others. If you're a Saturn lover, this is the best combination you can hope for! The ringed planet will be brighter and bigger and we'll be enjoying the warmest night skies of the year too! Saturn's rings and up to 5 of its moons will be visible in even the smallest backyard telescopes. Even without a telescope, Saturn will appear as a light caramel colored "star" to the naked eye. You'll have no trouble locating it on this night because it will be just to the right of the nearly Full Moon. That's a blessing and a curse! The Moon is easy to see because it's so bright. Even though Saturn will be at its brightest for the year, the Moon will be 39 times brighter! This may wash out relatively dim Saturn. You may need binoculars to explore the area just outside the lower right limb of the Moon in order to see it. Or, you can look a couple of nights before or after June 27 to see Saturn by itself in the constellation Sagittarius. Saturn will appear to be the brightest "star" perched just above the "teapot" shaped star pattern of this well known constellation.
This is how Saturn will look 3 nights after its Opposition. The Moon will rise at 10:16, so you'll have about 15 minutes to view Saturn before the glare of the Moon begins to interfere. Saturn itself is not affected too much by moonlight, but it's 4 dim moons may be harder to see. Saturn's largest moon, Titan is bright enough to stand up against the Moon's glare. Saturn will shine at magnitude zero which is relatively bright for night objects and it will be large enough to make its rings a grand sight in any size telescope.
Here's a closeup of Saturn on the night of June 30. It'll be a challenge to pick out 5 of the ringed planet's brightest moons because Saturn is currently drifting through a dense star field near the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Even I'm having difficulty distinguishing these moons from the background stars. The best way is to view Saturn during a series of nights. The "stars" that seem to move around Saturn are its moons.
June 28 (Wednesday) Full Strawberry Moon. It's raining now as I write this during the third week of May and I saw a few wild strawberry blossoms in my yard, so it's quite possible that we'll see these small red veggie/fruits near the end of June for which American Indians named this Moon.