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Sunday 28 May 2017  •   3 Oak Moon 2017

Viewing the night sky in Oak Moon 2017

26 May - 23 June 2017

Map of night sky at full moon: 9 June, 13:10 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Oak Moon 2017

Saturn comes to opposition and its nearest to Earth on 15 June, 1353 million kilometres, or 75 light minutes away. The opposition is near to the time of Saturn's aphelion, so the planet's near pass is pretty much as distant as it can be, but it is also only just after Saturn's northern summer solstice, so that its northern hemisphere is well tilted towards the Earth and Sun, and its rings are splendidly on view. The planet rises around sunset and shines brightly all night in the south of Ophiuchus. The full moon is close by on the night 9/10 June.

Jupiter shines very brightly in the evening and midnight skies. The moon passes close north of it on 4 June. On 9 June, Jupiter resumes its eastward progress through the stars of Virgo, back towards Spica, as the Earth moves yet further away from it, and our effect on its apparent movement against the outside universe diminishes.

Venus is very bright in the eastern morning sky, and on 3 Jun, reaches 45.87°W of the sun, before heading back inwards, this time towards the far side of the sun, and so a slower journey as seen from Earth, and one where Venus appears gradually less bright. On 3 Jun, look through binoculars or a telescope to see it at half phase. On this morning, it is passing south of Uranus, so swing your binoculars or telescope 1.6°N to catch sight of the ice giant. Venus, Uranus and the star Omicron Piscium form a near right-angle triangle, with the hypotenuse running between the two planets. If you are observing from the southern hemisphere with a good, clear eastern horizon, you may be able to see Mercury rise below them as the sky brightens. The moon is between Uranus and Venus on 20 June, and then just past Venus on 21 June. If you get up early to see the summer dawn, and if clouds don’t block the view, you should be able to see the bright planet and the old crescent together in the sky before the sun rises. As seen from much of western Europe, the exact moment of solstice is soon after sunrise. The further south-west you go, the nearer the solstice is to sunrise, until you get to Bordeaux, where solstice and sunrise will co-incide.

Mars is out of view behind the sun.

The month ahead: Holly Moon 2017

24 June - 23 July 2017

Map of night sky at full moon: 9 July, 04:07 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Holly Moon 2017

Pluto comes to opposition on 10 July, and its nearest to Earth on 7 July, when it is 4839 million kilometres or 4.5 light hours away. It is smaller than Earth’s moon, about two-thirds its diameter, and such a long way away that only the largest telescopes can see it from Earth. Nevertheless, the New Horizons probe has sent back lots of wonderful images and information about the dwarf planet and its large moon, Charon. We now know that Pluto has a thin atmosphere, a renewing and moving surface, and possible internal heat creating a deep sub-surface ocean.

Jupiter is very bright in the evening sky, setting towards midnight. If you have good binoculars or a telescope, do take the opportunity to try to make out its cloud bands, and most especially the Great Red Spot, a storm that has lasted 180 years, and maybe a lot longer. Jupiter rotates in less than ten hours, so the spot doesn’t take long to come back into view. Look also for its four main moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, at least two of which may have life in their subsurface oceans. They orbit more quickly than our own moon, and change position from night to night. Our moon is near Jupiter in the sky on 30 June?/?1 July.

Saturn shines brightly in the south of Ophiuchus in the evening and early night sky, gradually fading as the month goes on. The moon is near on the night 6/7 July. Venus shines in the eastern morning sky. On 11 July, it passes between Aldebaran and the Pleiades in Taurus. On 20 July, the old crescent moon is near Venus and Aldebaran, and indeed passes in front of Aldebaran as seen from much of Asia. Mars is out of view behind the sun.

William Morris
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