What's Up - June 2016
What's Up for June? Saturn at its best! Plus, good views of Mars, Jupiter and Jupiter's moons continue from dusk to dawn.
Hello, I'm Jane Houston Jones at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
You don't have to stay up late to see Jupiter, Mars and Saturn this month, because they're all visible soon after sunset. Jupiter is the brightest of the three, visible in the western sky all evening. The four Galilean moons are easily visible in binoculars or telescopes. If you think you're seeing 5 moons on June 10th, you're not. One of them is a distant star in the constellation Leo.
For telescope viewers, the time near Mars' closest approach to Earth, May 30th this year, is the best time to try to see the two moons of Mars: Phobos and Deimos. It takes patience, very steady skies and good charts! I saw both moons in may telescope at Mars Opposition in 2003. Mars is still large and bright in early June, but it fades as speedy Earth, in its shorter orbit around the sun, passes it.
Saturn has been close to Mars recently. This month Saturn reaches opposition, when Saturn, Earth and the sun are in a straight line with Earth in the middle, providing the best and closest views of the ringed beauty and several of its moons. You'll be able to make out cloud bands on Saturn, in delicate shades of cream and butterscotch. They're fainter than the bands of Jupiter. Through a telescope you'll see Saturn's rings tilted about as wide as they get: 26 degrees. You'll also have a ring-side view of the Cassini division, discovered by Giovanni Domenico Cassini, namesake of NASA's Cassini spacecraft, orbiting Saturn since 2004 and continuing through September 2017. When you look at Saturn through a telescope, you can't help but see several of its 4 brightest moons, and maybe more. If you just see one, that's Titan, 50% larger than our own moon. A telescope can also reveal more moons, like Saturn's two-colored moon Iapetus. It takes 3 months to orbit Saturn, and it's fairly easy to see.
There's a bright comet visible this month, Comet PanSTARRS. It's best seen from the southern hemisphere, but it's also visible from the U.S. low in the morning sky. Comet PanSTARRS can be seen through a telescope near the beautiful Helix Nebula on June 4, but it is visible all month.
You can catch up on current missions to comets, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov
That's all for this month. I'm Jane Houston Jones.