June is the month with the fewest nighttime stargazing hours. Not only are there more daylight hours, but the twilight hours are extra-long at this time of year, too. The summer solstice happens on June 21, and the couple of weeks before and after the solstice will have fewer than 5½ hours of true darkness.
However, what few hours of darkness we have are enhanced by the view of the summer Milky Way after it rises. Few things in the sky are quite as impressive. On a moonless night at a really dark location outside town, the Milky Way can seem so bright as to ruin your night vision. That is truly one of the advantages to living in one of the darkest parts of the country.
In the meantime, exciting things are happening in the world of space science and space exploration. The supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way was photographed for the first time using the Event Horizon telescope. Seeing details on such a fine scale is an incredible technological feat. This was accomplished when an array of radio telescopes was used to create a single instrument effectively as large as the Earth.
The James Webb Space Telescope recently completed testing and the first science images have been promised by July.
The Space Launch System is the new moon rocket. It was rolled out to the launchpad last week in preparation for a “wet” dress rehearsal. The cryogenic fuel will be loaded, and all countdown operations will be completed except for the actual firing of the rocket. If the test goes well, it will launch the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis I mission to go around the moon before the end of the summer.
If you go outside right after dark, you may have a few minutes before the Milky Way starts to rise. The brightest part of the Milky Way, where that black hole in the center of our galaxy is, will be to the southeast in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius.
This is one of the most rewarding regions in the entire sky, as there are numerous targets for your naked eyes, small binoculars or for any size telescope. Although an archer in mythology, Sagittarius is most identifiable today because of the asterism that looks like a teapot.
M22, the Sagittarius cluster is a bright globular cluster about 2 degrees up and to the left of the topmost star in the teapot. There are several other globular clusters visible with telescopes, but none are as bright as M22.
M8, the Lagoon Nebula is about 5 degrees to the right of that same star. After the Orion Nebula, the Lagoon Nebula is the second-brightest star-forming region we can see. You can see the Lagoon with your naked eye. With binoculars, numerous stars are visible as part of the open cluster associated with the nebula. The glowing hydrogen gas that makes M8 so interesting will show up red in photographs, but because of the limitations of our eye sensitivity, we will only see this as a pale blue-gray fuzzy patch.
Slightly to the north of M8 is M20, the Trifid Nebula. Dark bands divide this nebula into three, thus its name.
Less than 10 degrees north of the teapot is M17, called either the Omega Nebula, the Swan Nebula or the Checkmark Nebula depending on what your imagination says it looks like.
The planets are all out in the morning. Mercury makes its greatest western elongation, the farthest it appears from the sun, on June 16. It will join the line of Saturn, Mars, Jupiter and Venus that all lie along the ecliptic. If you have a telescope and a good star chart you could also see Uranus, Neptune and Pluto along the same line.
Charles Hakes teaches in the physics and engineering department at Fort Lewis College and is the director of the Fort Lewis Observatory. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MILKY WAY BLACK HOLE PICTURE: https://bit.ly/3QdhLu8.
SPACE LAUNCH SYSTEM ARTEMIS I TEST: https://go.nasa.gov/39cyTQ7.
ASTRONOMY PICTURE OF THE DAY: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod.
OLD FORT LEWIS OBSERVATORY: www.fortlewis.edu/observatory.
AN ASTRONOMER’S FORECAST FOR DURANGO: https://bit.ly/2eXWa64.
FOUR CORNERS STARGAZERS: https://bit.ly/2pKeKKa.