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Sonoma County Gazette
Guide to the Night Sky

Guide to the Night Sky

May 31, 2018
by Tre Gibbs


By Tre Gibbs, L.A.A.S.

It’s June! That means time for our annual Summer Solstice, which marks the beginning of Summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Let’s dive a little deeper into this amazing yet relatively common event…

Earth spins on it’s axis—one complete turn takes approximately 24 hours, what we call “a day”. This axis just happens to be tilted, coincidentally about 24 degrees (makes it easy to remember). Earth also orbits it’s nearest star, the Sun. As the tilted Earth orbits the sun, there are times when the top half of Earth (the northern hemisphere) is leaning away from the Sun while the bottom half (the southern hemisphere) is leaning towards the sun. Conversely, there will be a time - 6 months later - when Earth will be in a place in it’s orbit where the bottom half will be leaning away from the Sun, while the top half will be leaning towards the Sun.

June 21st at 3:07 am will be this time. While most of us don’t have the resources to travel long distances out into space and witness this event for ourselves, it definitely translates visually down here on Earth. For example, at dawn on June 21st, the Sun will rise at its furthest northern point on the eastern horizon. During the day, the Sun’s path will also be at it’s northernmost path or highest in the sky, and at sunset, the Sun will set at it’s most northern point on the western horizon. Keep in mind that the Sun has been gradually moving northward since The Winter Solstice and, after June 21st, will reverse direction - but this is a gradual transition. As the Sun gets closer to it’s most northern point, it’s movement begins to slow down and from our vantage point, appears to stop or “stand still” before turning around and heading south again. The word “solstice” is derived from the Latin sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”). From this point on, the days gradually begin to get shorter, becoming somewhat noticeable near the end of July/beginning of August.

June’s Full Moon is known as The Strawberry Moon, since this moon signaled the time when Algonquin tribes would gather ripening strawberries and other fruit. This year, the Full Strawberry Moon happens at 9:54 pm and June 27th. Another interesting happening is that the full moon rises and travels the sky with the mighty Saturn! Look for Saturn, appearing as a rather average looking, non-twinkling star just to the lower right of the full moon - on this night only.

Early in the month, on June 3rd, the moon will rise with the planet Mars (both in Capricornus The Sea Goat), but not until 1:00 am. Jupiter (in Libra The Scales) is high in the southeast at sunset early on in the month, while Saturn (in Sagittarius) rises around 11:00 pm. Mid month - June 17th - try to find an extremely thin crescent moon to the left of planet Venus, both just above the western horizon. By month’s end though, Jupiter will have moved westward and appears high in the south at sunset, Saturn rises around 9:00 pm and Mars appears above the eastern horizon just prior to midnight.

Have a great month—and take some time to pause and look up. There’s an incredible show going on overhead each & every night.


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