A giant mountain of ice and rock known as Comet Johnson is heading toward the sun this month, creating a prime opportunity for sky-watchers. Some of the brightest worlds in our solar system will also put on great sky shows—especially the giant planet Saturn. Backyard telescope users will get their best views for the year of this magnificent world and its iconic rings.
So dust off those binoculars, and mark your June calendar!
Jupiter and Moon—June 3
Look for the waxing gibbous moon as it passes very close to the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter. North American viewers will have front-row seats to the closest point of the encounter. For sky-watchers in the region, the moon will appear less than two degrees from the bright, creamy-colored planet, making for a dramatic display as the two rise over the southeast horizon after darkness falls.
Comet Johnson Passes Earth—June 5
Comet Johnson (C/2015 V2) has been making its way toward the inner solar system for the better part of a year. This month it makes its closest pass to Earth, coming within 75 million miles as it prepares to swing around the sun next week. The comet is currently shining at magnitude 7.5, making it an easy target to see with binoculars, and it is well placed for mid-northern latitude sky-watchers, who will see the bright fuzzy blob glide through the constellation Boötes, the herdsman.
The comet is best seen after 10 p.m. local time, when the sky gets truly dark. After June 5, Comet Johnson will be passing next to the bright star Arcturus, making it much easier to hunt down. The glare from the waxing moon will make it a bit more challenging to observe this week, but after June 11, the moonless skies should offer better viewing opportunities.
Saturn Poses With Moon—June 9
The second largest planet in the solar system will appear to cozy up to Earth’s lone natural satellite on June 9. The moon will be only three degrees to the right of golden-yellow Saturn, and the pair will rise over the southeast horizon just after local twilight.
Saturn Primetime—June 14
Saturn will put on its best show of the year, when the majestic planet reaches what’s known as opposition. This is the point in time when it lies opposite to the sun in our sky. Not only does the gas giant stay visible all night, rising in the east at sunset and setting in the west at dawn, but it also lies closest to Earth, at a mere 840 million miles.
This arrangement means that Saturn will shine at its brightest and appear its largest in backyard telescopes. The planet will remain well-placed for viewing for all of June and well into July.
Hunting down Saturn will be easy even with the naked eye—it will look like a striking golden-yellow star within the faint constellation Ophiuchus, rising from the eastern horizon as night falls.
To get the most awe-inspiring views of Saturn, you will need a small telescope with high magnification. The planet’s famous system of rings will be perfectly positioned for our viewing pleasure, since they currently appear tilted as much as 26 degrees toward Earth. And with backyard telescopes that are six inches or larger, viewers should be able to spot Saturn’s large moons Titan and Enceladus as tiny dot-like objects on either side of the planet.
Moon Visits Venus—June 20
Early-bird sky-watchers willing to set their alarms for an hour before local sunrise will get a chance to see the crescent moon in a tight formation with the brightest star-like object in the sky, the planet Venus. The cosmic pair will be rising above the eastern morning sky. Venus will appear less than eight degrees to the left of the moon on the 20th and will appear on the other side of the moon the next morning.
June Solstice—June 21
The solstice officially arrives at 12:24 a.m. ET on June 21, marking the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. At this precise moment, Earth’s northern axis will be most tilted toward the sun, and on this date, the sun will reach its farthest point north in Earth’s sky.
Regulus and Moon—June 27
The waxing crescent moon will seem to pass close to the blue-white star Regulus in the constellation Leo, the lion. The two objects will be only one degree apart, about equal to the width of your thumb held at arm’s length. For lucky observers in parts of South America and Hawaii, the star will even seem to wink out briefly as it travels behind the moon from our vantage point.