June skies take Jupiter out of sight

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Going, going, gone! Jupiter passes Venus on May 28 and then is lost to visible sighting as it enters the glare of the setting Sun June 4. Jupiter reaches conjunction with the Sun on its far side on June 19.

Venus will continue to hover just above the west-northwest horizon for most of the month gaining only a couple of degrees in elevation by the end of the month. However, given a cloudless horizon Venus, at magnitude -3.8, should be easy to spot. One benefit of this low position all month is that Venus will make an excellent reference point to find Mercury.

Mercury is putting on a great show with this month being its best evening apparition for 2013 and will be visible well past mid-month. At first, it will be above and to the left of Venus but will gradually sink and will be only 2.1 degrees due left of Venus on the 18th. On the 19th it will be its closest to Venus at only 1.9 degrees below and to the left. By this time however, Mercury will have dimmed considerably and you might need a pair of binoculars to get a good look at the tiny planet.

Saturn will continue to dominate the evening sky and can be found just east of the bright star Spica in Virgo. An easy way to find it is by finding the big bear, Ursa Major (Big Dipper). Then by following the arc of the tail (or handle) you “arc to Arcturus” (the next bright star to the south) and “speed on to Spica.” Then take a little jog to the left to find the ringed planet. The rings are still open and will make for some great viewing through a small telescope.

Finally, Mars reappears in the morning sky about a half hour before sunrise on June 1st. At magnitude +1.4 it will be difficult to spot until the end of the month when it will be found about 7 degrees above the horizon. If you are lucky, wait 10 more minutes after spotting Mars with your binoculars and you might catch a fleeting view of Jupiter peeking up over the horizon.

The Moon will be new on the eighth, first quarter on the 16th, full on the 23rd and last quarter on the 30th. Looking west-northwest about 45 minutes after sunset on the 10th, the very thin crescent Moon is just to the right of Venus with Mercury forming a triangle just above. Looking south, about halfway up around 10 p.m., the waxing Moon will bracket Saturn on the nights of June 18 and 19.

The summer solstice officially begins at 11:04 p.m. MDT (10:04 PDT) on June 20 ,giving us the shortest night of the year in the northern hemisphere.