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Touring the Skies By Jim Bonser (

May 30, 2019
Reinbeck Courier
Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Summer officially arrives this month when the summer solstice occurs on Friday, June 21 at 10:54 a.m. CDT. This means, of course that June has the longest days and shortest nights of the year with the very shortest nights being the ones on either side of the 21st. I want to assure you, though that while the nights may be shorter, the skies of June are packed with some spectacularly beautiful gems if you know where to look. Many of these wonders really stand out with the aid of a good telescope, but even without a telescope there are plenty of wonderful things to enjoy if you are willing to stay up late enough for the skies to darken enough to see them. As June begins, the Sun sets about 8:40 p.m. When the center of the Sun is 8 degrees below the horizon, we say that Civil Twilight begins. As you know, even though the Sun is below the horizon, it stays light for quite a while afterwards. At our latitude (about 42 deg. North) the Sun does not get far enough below the horizon for it to become completely dark (Astronomical Dusk) until about 10:48 p.m.! Really late, I know. And on the 21st, the first day of Summer, Astronomical dust doesn’t happen until about 11:02 p.m.! Great for summer outings and evening baseball games, but not so great for stargazers who have to get up and go to work early in the morning. Still, as I said earlier, if you can stay up late enough, there are some beautiful things to see if you can sleep in a little the next the day. This month, I would like us to take a little closer look at a constellation that is fairly easy to locate and has some great things to look at in June. I’m talking about the Zodiacal constellation: Scorpius. Scorpius is one of the few constellations that actually looks a little like a stick drawing version of the creature it represents. A little imagination is required to fill in the gaps to be sure, but it is not a huge stretch like it is with most of the others. Even though it is not completely dark until almost 11 p.m., if you go out and begin looking in the low southern skies around 10 p.m., Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius will be easy to spot. This year, it will be particularly easy because just a little behind Antares is much brighter Jupiter. Antares has a very distinctive orange color, which is where it got its name. Antares means “rival of Mars” because their colors and brightness’s are very similar. In ancient times, the constellation Scorpius was much bigger than its official size today. In ancient times, the constellation included two stars that represented the deadly scorpion’s claws: Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali. Modern astronomers have placed those two stars in the constellation Libra (The Scales). In Greek mythology, Scorpius is the creature that killed the famous Orion the Hunter. According to Robin Kerrod in his book, “The Book of Constellations”, Orion unwisely boasted to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt that he was able to track down and kill any creature on the face of the Earth. This caused the Earth to tremble with rage and it cracked open. A scorpion scuttled out of the crack and stung Orion to death. The gods wanted to commemorate both Orion and the scorpion but out of compassion placed them in opposite parts of the sky: Orion among the stars of winter and the scorpion among the stars of summer. Just a little to the right of Antares is a globular cluster called M4. M4 is just bright enough to be visible to the unaided eye if the skies are transparent enough and the atmosphere is steady. A pair of binoculars will make finding it easy. Once you have located it in binoculars, move them away from your eyes and see if you can spot the dim, fuzzy star without their help! In a good telescope, M4 reveals a distinctive bar of stars running right through its core. If you follow the arc of the stars of the scorpion’s tail down to the star where they make a sharp turn to the east you will see the place known as the “Scorpius Jewel Box”. Binoculars will help you see the beautiful overlapping open star clusters in this area. Unfortunately, from here in Iowa, this area barely clears the horizon and clouds and haze often obscure this part of the sky, but occasionally we get a good look, so keep this spot in the back of your mind this summer and if conditions are good be sure to take a look. Above and to the left of the fairly bright star named Shaula in the stinger are two globular clusters called M6 and M7. Shaula, M6 and M7 form an almost perfect equilateral triangle - be sure to seek them out and if you happen to be at a public star party – ask one of the amateur astronomers to help you find them if you have any trouble. Jupiter reaches opposition this month and will be visible shortly after sunset rising soon after Antares. Saturn rises about two hours later and is just to the east of the Sagittarius ‘teapot’ asterism near the ‘spoon’. Hope you get out and enjoy the skies of June this year! Clear Skies!


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