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June Skies

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June Skies

by Dick Cookman


Highlights: Comet Journal, Martian Landers, Meteor Showers, Planet Plotting, Summer Solstice, June Moon

Focus Constellations: Cassiopeia, Camelopardalis, Lynx, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cepheus, Draco, Cygnus, Lyra, Hercules, Corona Borealis, Bootes, Canes Venetici, Coma Berenices, Virgo, Ophiuchus

Comet Journal

C/2014 E2 (Jacques) is lost in the glow of the setting Sun in June and will reappear in the predawn skies in July after passing perihelion in Taurus on July 2nd when it may reach maximum brightness (+4.0?). It will then rise above the plane of the Solar System and pass about 8,000,000 miles from Venus on the 13th. It may still be visible to the naked eye at magnitude 5 - 6 when closest to Earth on August 28th (52,000,000 mi).

Comet C/2012 X1 (LINEAR) and Comet C/2012 K1 (PanSTARRS) are at 8th magnitude and will remain that bright until July. PanSTARRS moves through Leo Minor and will continue above the head of Leo in July. After reaching perihelion on the other side of the Sun on August 27th it may be 6th magnitude when closest to and below Earth in November southern hemisphere skies. LINEAR, south of the ecliptic in southern Aquarius, will move into Pisces Austrinus in June as an early morning apparition. It will be nearest to Earth on June 27th in Pisces Austrinus and not visible from northern latitudes.

Comet C/2013 UQ4 (Catalina) is in western Pisces and may reach 7th or 8th magnitude prior to and after passing perihelion on July 5th. It rises in the wee hours well after midnight on the 1st and closer to midnight on the 30th. It was discovered on October 23, 2013 and initially designated as an asteroid. It exhibited cometary activity in May, 2014 and was redefined as a dark comet. Dark comets are comets which have lost their sizzle, they can occasionally make comebacks and develop tails like normal comets. Astronomers predict that it will be 1.08 A.U. from the Sun at perihelion and within 0.31 A.U. from Earth on July 10th. They determined that it is probably a long period comet which is coming into the inner solar system on a 500 year counter clockwise orbit originating in the Oort or Kuiper Belt.

Mars Landers

Opportunity has been making tracks since April 15th in order to reach an area south of Solander Point on the rim of Endeavor Crater where orbital imagery revealed the presence of clay minerals. From Sol 3635 (April 15, 2014) to Sol 3662 (May 13, 2014) the rover traveled over 1500 feet southwestward along the ridge in order to approach the clay minerals. After experiencing elevated motor currents in the right-front wheel and heating the actuator to slightly reduce the current draw, the rover completed the last 2/3rds of the journey by driving backwards to further reduce current demand.

Upon arrival at the aluminum-hydroxyl clay mineral area Opportunity approached a region with extended rock outcrops to conduct detailed investigation for the presence of clay minerals which may preserve residues of organic chemistry.Solar array energy production improved almost 16% during the month to 761 watt-hours per day.

On April 16th, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover approached a rock layer surrounding the base of a small 16 foot tall butte called Mount Remarkable at “the Kimberley.” There are four different intersecting rock types in an this area which is a destination targeted after it was first observed from orbit in early 2013. "The Kimberley" is thought to be ideal for studying rock clues about ancient environments that may have been favorable for life.

The rock layer surrounding the base of Mount Remarkable is known as the “middle unit” because its location is intermediate between rocks that form buttes in the area and lower-lying rocks that show a pattern of large scale striations produced by a succession of parallel ridges and valleys resulting from differential erosion of rock layers of varying resistance.

The first two Martian rocks drilled a year ago were mudstone slabs in Yellowknife Bay, about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) northeast of the current location. Those two rocks yielded evidence of an ancient lakebed environment with key chemical elements and a chemical energy source that provided conditions billions of years ago favorable for microbial life.

A sandstone slab in the "middle unit" called Winjana was targeted for the third drilling after observations with the camera and X-ray spectrometer. Dust was brushed from a patch on the rock and readings of composition at various points on the rock were made with an instrument that fires laser shots. The drilling goal is to produce a powdered sample from the rock's interior which can be prepared and delivered to onboard laboratory instruments for chemical analysis. “We want to learn more about the wet process that turned sand deposits into sandstone” said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “What was the composition of the fluids that bound the grains together? That aqueous chemistry is part of the habitability story (that) we’re investigating.”

By the middle of May, portions of powdered rock collected by drilling into a sandstone target last week were delivered to laboratory instruments inside NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. Other instruments on the rover inspected the rock’s interior exposed in the hole and in drill cuttings heaped around the hole. The camera and spectrometer at the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm examined the texture and composition of the cuttings. The instrument that fires a laser from atop the rover’s mast zapped a series of points inside the hole with sharpshooter accuracy for measurement of chemical composition.The rover will soon resume its drive toward the long-term destination on the slopes of Mt. Sharp.at the center of Gale Crater.

Meteor Showers

The Bootid Meteor Shower on the 27th coincides with the last stages of the waning Moon which rises about 4AM EDT.The minimal lunar glare will enhance visibility of the meteors. Meteor rate has been extremely variable. Prior to 1927 it was a relatively consistent shower but was dormant from 1927 to 1998 when it produced up to 100 meteors per hour. In 2004 it appeared again with rates approaching 50 meteors per hour. The meteors result from debris thrown off by Come 7P Pons-Winneke which orbits the Sun every 6 years and was last at perihelion in 2010. Since the showers seem to occur when the comet is close to perihelion, there may not be much of a show by the relatively slow moving meteors. Hopefully it may be better than the meteor sprinkle produce by the newborn Camelopardalids last month.

Summer Solstice

The solstice is at 6:51AM EDT on the 21st when Earth's axis is oriented at maximum tilt toward the Sun resulting in longest day and shortest night for the year for the northern hemisphere. At latitude 45° N, the Sun is 68.5° above the south point on the horizon at noon, its highest altitude of the year. In contrast, on the winter solstice the Sun is only 21.5° above the horizon at noon. Since we view the sky in the opposite direction at night, the Moon and planets traverse the sky at their lowest altitude of the year mimicking the winter solstice path of the Sun.

Planet Plotting

Evening planets in June include Mercury, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn. Mars (-0.5) in Virgo sets before 3AM EDT on the 1st and slightly after midnight on the 30th. Saturn (+0.2) in Libra sets about 4:30AM on the 1st and slightly after 2:00AM at the end of the month. Jupiter (-1.9) in Gemini sets about 11:00PM EDT on the 1st and by 9:00PM EDT on the 30th. Mercury (+1.2) in Gemini disappears into the glow of sunset before 10PM EDT in early June before lining up with the Sun in Taurus on the 19th. Mercury reappears in morning skies in early July.

Earth circuited past Mars during opposition in April and is rapidly distancing the red planet which grows smaller and dimmer with each passing month. Although surface details can still be easily seen in telescopes more than 5 inches in diameter, Mars will be less than one sixth as bright when at its greatest distance from Earth in the summer of 2015.

Venus, Uranus, and Neptune are morning planets. Magnificent Venus (-4.0 to -3.9) in Aries rises after 4:00AM on the 1st and and after 3:00AM on the 30th. Neptune (+7.9) in Aquarius rises about 1:30AM EDT on the 1st, followed 1.5 hours later by Uranus (+5.9) in Pisces.

PlanetConstellationMagnitudePlanet Passages
SunTaurus, Gemini-26.8New Moon, 6/27, 4:08PM EDT
MercuryGemini, Taurus+1.2/+3.4/+2.7Inferior Conjunction, 6/19, 7PM EDT
VenusAries, Taurus-4.0 to -3.9 
MarsVirgo-0.5 to 0.0 
JupiterGemini-1.9 to -1.8 
SaturnLibra+0.2 to +0.4 

June Moon

The New Moon of May on the 28th marked the start of Lunation 1131 which ends 29.56 days later with the New Moon on June 27th at 4:08PM EDT.

The Full Moon of June occurs in Ophiuchus (the generally unrecognized 13th zodiacal constellation) on the 13th at 12:11AM EDT. The June Moon was traditionally named the "Rose Moon" in Colonial America. For Celts it was “Moon of Horses” and Chinese call it the “Lotus Moon." To Medieval English it was “Dyan Moon” and the Anishnaabe people (Chippewa and Ojibwe) of northern Michigan call it “Ode’imini-giizis” (Strawberry Moon).

There are 2 apogees in June. The Moon is at the farthest point in its orbit, 251,627 miles (63.49 Earth Radii) from Earth on the 3rd at 12:25AM EDT and even farther on the 30th at 3:10PM EDT when it is at 252,233 miles (63.65 Earth Radii). Perigee distance is 224,977 miles (56.77 Earth Radii) on the 14th at 11:29AM EDT.

PlanetConstellationMagnitudeMoon PassageMoon Phase/Age
SunTaurus-26.84:08PM EDT, 6/27New ~ 0 days
MercuryTaurus+1.10.27°N, 8AM EDT, 6/26Waning Crescent ~ 28.72 days
VenusTaurus-3.91.3°S, 9AM EDT, 6/24Waning Crescent ~ 26.76 days
MarsVirgo-0.31.6°S, 9PM EDT, 6/7Waxing Gibbous ~ 10.26 days
JupiterGemini-1.96.0°S, 4AM EDT, 6/1Waxing Crescent ~ 3.56 days
JupiterGemini-1.85.0°S, 11PM EDT, 6/30Waxing Crescent ~ 3.79 days
SaturnLibra+0.30.6°S, 3PM EDT, 6/10Waxing Gibbous ~ 13.01 days
UranusPisces+5.91.6°N, 11PM EDT, 6/20Waning Crescent ~ 23.35 days
NeptuneAquarius+7.95.0°N, 6AM EDT, 6/18Waning Gibbous ~ 20.64 days


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