What to Look for in the Night Sky in June
As the Northern Hemisphere races toward the shortest nights of the year, there’s still plenty to marvel at in the cosmos.
June is not as active with meteor showers as other months, but there’s still some great planet-watching to do, and the lucky few will be treated to a solar eclipse!
Spotting the International Space Station is always a great activity and is easy to do thanks to this handy tool. For even more events to look for in the night sky, check out the “tonight” feature on the EarthSky website.
June 10th: Annular Solar Eclipse
It’s a solar eclipse! Don’t get too excited, though. Unless you live north of the 45th parallel, you’re going to have to catch “totality” online.
While the sun is completely obscured during a total solar eclipse, during an annular eclipse, the moon is too far away from the earth to cover all of the sun. This leaves the outer edge of the sun visible throughout the eclipse, creating a “ring of fire” effect.
Who can watch?
Even if you don’t live in Canada, Baffin Island, or Russia (where the greatest eclipse is visible), you may be able to see a partial solar eclipse.
This animation (courtesy of NASA) shows where the “ring of fire” effect will be visible in red. The larger surrounding shadow illustrates where the partial eclipse will be visible, which includes much the the U.S. East Coast and the Great Lakes. Time and date has an interactive map you can access here, that will help you determine how much of the eclipse you can see and when to look. Times will vary based on your location.
If you want to see the partial eclipse in the United States, you’ll need to be up before sunrise since the partial eclipse will be ongoing for most as the sun rises.
The areas in light orange from the Dakotas to Georgia will be able to see a partial eclipse, but the sun will rise after maximum solar coverage has been reached. For those in the red color, the maximum will occur just after sunrise and will cover more than 70% of the sun.
June 13th: The Moon and Mars
Image credit: EarthSky.org
Mars and Venus will be out in the early evening sky toward the middle of the month. This is a good time to catch the red planet before it becomes more difficult to see later into the summer.
Look toward the western horizon around sunset to see Venus low in the sky. Once you spot Venus, look just to the left and up slightly for the faint red glow of Mars. June 13th should offer a nice opportunity to catch the waxing crescent moon very close to the 4th planet in our solar system.
June 20th: Summer Solstice
The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere will occur on the 20th of June . . . mostly. If you’re in the United States, the summer solstice will be on June 20th, at 11:32 p.m. ET/8:32 PT. That means every other location east of Eastern Time (UTC -4) will experience the solstice on the 21st. Regardless, astronomical summer arrives in the Northern Hemisphere when the solstice occurs!
What IS a solstice? Earth rotates on an axis that is tilted by around 23.5°. The solstice is the point in Earth’s orbit where one pole is tilted toward the sun more than any other time of the year. This occurs once in June and once in December. The NASA image above offers a nice perspective which tilts the Earth’s orbit instead of the planet itself.
From our perspective here on Earth, the sun will appear at its northern-most position in the sky than any other day. In the Southern Hemisphere, the suns rays are the least direct they will be all year, and the season changes from autumn to winter.
June 24th: Full Moon, Supermoon
A supermoon occurs when the full moon reaches its nearest point in the Earth’s orbit. This makes the moon look larger or brighter than normal. It typically happens several times a year, though this is the last supermoon of 2021.
While the June supermoon won’t be the biggest of the year, it will still be larger than average and bright enough to cast shadows. Rising as the sun sets and setting as the sun rises, you won’t be able to miss it, unless the clouds ruin everything.
June 26th – 30th: The Moon passes 4 planets
As the moon wanes in late June, it will brush by four planets (three regular and one dwarf, LEAVE PLUTO ALONE) in five nights!
Two of those planets will be pretty easy to spot, given your location is not in the middle of a giant city with lots of light pollution. The other two, Neptune and Pluto, won’t be visible unless you have a decent telescope.
Look toward the southeastern horizon in the hours before dawn to see the moon and the string of planets nearby. Look for Jupiter first, since it will easily be the brightest, then try to find Saturn before busting out the telescope/camera.