In June 2022, all the bright objects to be seen at dusk are stars, plus the moon in the first two weeks, culminating in a “Supermoon.”
Where are all the planets? Cooler mornings and a rare lineup of four to all five bright planets in “correct” order across the sky before dawn are rich rewards for early risers. The moon, waning from full to a thin crescent June 14-27, adds daily interest as it passes the five bright planets from June 18-27. Summer begins on June 21.
Evening sky: At dusk in early June, it’s still easy to find the Spring Arch in the west to northwest. From left to right, its stars are Procyon in the west, Pollux and Castor (the Twins of Gemini, 4.5 degrees apart at the top of the Arch), and Capella, low in the northwest. By month’s end, only the Twins remain, very low in the west-northwest. Regulus, heart of Leo, is high in the west-southwest to west, to the upper left of the Twins. Blue-white Spica, the spike of grain in the hand of Virgo, and golden Arcturus, the “bear-watcher”—the brightest star of June evenings—pass through their highest points in the south. Antares, the red supergiant star marking the heart of the Scorpion, passed opposition on the night of May 30-31, and ascends through the southeast at dusk in June. Altair rises a little north of east, completing the Summer Trianglewith Vega and Deneb farther north, to Altair’s upper left.
There are no planets at dusk in June 2022. Look nightly, and follow the moon for the first two weeks. On Wednesday, June 1, an hour after sunset, the 7 percent crescent moon is low in the west-northwest, 12 degrees below Castor and 14 degrees to the lower right of Pollux. At the same time the next evening, the 12 percent moon passes within 3 degrees to the lower left of Pollux. On June 5, look for Regulus 5 degrees to the lower left of the 36 percent moon. On Monday, the fat crescent moon, 46 percent full, appears 12 degrees to the upper left of Regulus. An hour after sunset on Thursday, June 9, the 76 percent gibbous moon is high in the south, with Spica 6 degrees to its lower left.
An hour after sunset on the 12th, the 97 percent moon is accompanied by Antares, 7 degrees to its lower left. The moon is full overnight Monday, June 13, to Tuesday, June 14. On the 13th, the moon rises about 20 minutes before sunset, some 31 degrees south of east. In the gathering dusk, look for Antares 9 degrees to the moon’s upper right. An hour before sunrise on Tuesday the 14th, look for the full “Supermoon” low in the southwest, only about 11 hours before the closest approach to Earth. Look again, almost an hour after sunset on Tuesday, for a 99 percent moon rising 33 degrees south of east. Though not quite full, the rising moon will be marginally larger in apparent diameter; this moonrise will be the southernmost of the month.
The moon returns to the early evening sky on June 29. On that date, you’ll need an unobstructed view, and very clear skies. Binoculars will help spot the hairline 1 percent crescent 40 minutes after sunset, 2 degrees up, 30 degrees north of west, with Pollux 5 degrees to its upper left. On June 30, you can look an hour after sunset for an easier 4 percent moon, 6 degrees up in the west-northwest, with Pollux 8 degrees to its lower right. Can you see fainter Castor 4.5 degrees to right of Pollux?
Mornings: Don’t miss the spectacular, rare predawn display of planets! Throughout June, four or all five naked-eye planets form a long line across the sky in morning twilight. On June 1, the lineup is 69 degrees long, from Venus, very low north of east, through Mars and Jupiter (within 2 degrees in the east-southeast), to Saturn, well up in the southeast to south-southeast. The two brightest planets, Venus of magnitude -3.9 and Jupiter of magnitude –2.3 to -2.4, are 30 degrees apart on May 31, 45 degrees apart on June 15, and 60 degrees apart on June 29. Mars, of magnitude +0.7 to +0.5, widens its distance to the lower the left of Jupiter, to 4 degrees on June 5, 10 degrees on June 15, 15 degrees on June 23, and 20 degrees on July 1. Saturn, of magnitude +0.7 to +0.6, appears 39 to 43 degrees west of Jupiter. Of greatest interest through telescopes are Jupiter, with its four bright moons, and Saturn with its rings, opening to 12.6 degrees from edge-on at month’s end, our best view within the next several years. Bright stars visible every morning in June are the Summer Triangle of Vega, Altair and Deneb passing west of overhead; Capella low in the northeast; and Fomalhaut, Mouth of the Southern Fish, to the lower left of Saturn.
Mercury is too faint to be seen in early June, but brightens to magnitude +1.0 by June 11, +0.5 on June 16, 0.0 on June 21, and -0.7 at month’s end. Mercury remains low through this apparition, so binoculars are recommended to catch it in the twilight glow. Look to the lower left of Venus, by 12 degrees on June 11-12; and by 11 degrees on June 13-15. Mercury reaches greatest elongation, 23 degrees from the sun, on June 16; from then through June 25, it remains 10 degrees to the lower left of Venus. Mercury is highest in morning twilight June 21-23. On June 23, Venus passes 6 degrees south of the Pleiades, while Mercury passes within 3 degrees north of Aldebaran. On June 29 and 30, Mercury is again 12 degrees to the lower left of Venus.
Once Mercury becomes visible, all five naked-eye planets are in fine display, from Mercury and Venus low in the east-northeast, to Saturn well up in the south, in the correct order of their actual distances from the sun. The moon, waning from full to a thin crescent, can be seen simultaneously with all five planets June 14-27. On June 18, the 78 percent gibbous moon appears 5 degrees to the lower right of Saturn.
On June 21, summer begins at 2:14 a.m., as the sun stands directly over the Tropic of Cancer; on that date, we’ll experience our longest day and highest midday sun of the year, passing about 10 degrees south of overhead in the Coachella Valley. In morning twilight on the 21st, the 46 percent fat crescent moon, just past last quarter phase, appears within 4 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter.
On June 22, the 36 percent moon appears within 4 degrees to the right of Mars. During June 23-25, the waning crescent moon appears between Venus and Mars (on the 24th about midway between them). Standing in for Earth, the moon on those three mornings joins the five bright planets in the correct order of their actual distances from sun. On June 25, the 12 percent crescent stands 8 degrees to the upper right of Venus. On the 26th, the 6 percent crescent stands 3 or 4 degrees to the right of Venus. That morning, Mercury appears 8 degrees to the lower left of the moon. Use binoculars for fainter Aldebaran, 7 degrees to the lower left of Venus, 7 degrees to the lower right of the moon, and 6 degrees to the upper right of Mercury. On June 27, the last old crescent moon rises within 14 degrees to the lower left of Venus. Look for Mercury 4 degrees to the right of the moon, and Aldebaran 6 degrees below Venus and 7 degrees to the upper right of Mercury.
New moon occurs on Wednesday, June 28, at 7:52 p.m., about three hours before the most distant moon of year, 252,637 miles from the Earth’s center. Half a month later, on July 13, the moon will be at its closest for 2022, creating the biggest “Supermoon” of the year.
In morning twilight on June 29, the sun is below the northeast horizon, while Jupiter appears in the southeast, in quadrature, 90 degrees west of the sun. The panorama of planets, Mercury to Saturn, now stretches 115 degrees across the sky.
While you’re outdoors enjoying the view, imagine the motions of the planets around the sun. The faster-moving inner planets, Mercury and Venus, are receding from us, heading toward the far side of the sun, and we’re catching up to the slower-moving outer planets. In morning twilight, we’re on the front side of Spaceship Earth, facing ahead in the direction of our motion. In fact, as we face Jupiter on the morning of June 29, our planet is hurtling directly toward it, as a speed of nearly 30 km/sec., or 18.5 mi/sec—or 1/10,000 of the speed of light! Our planet will follow its curved orbit around the sun and will pass between sun and Jupiter on Sept. 26. Jupiter will then appear at opposition, setting in the western sky at dawn as the sun rises, and rising in the eastern sky at dusk, as the sun sets. Jupiter will then be visible all night.
In the morning sky in late June 2022, all the outer planets lie ahead of us, and we’ll overtake each one before the end of the year. Here are the dates of opposition, when we overtake each planet, and it appears visible all night: Saturn on Aug. 14; Neptune on Sept. 16; Jupiter on Sept. 26; Uranus on the night of Nov. 8; and finally, we’ll overtake the fastest-moving outer planet, Mars, on the night of Dec. 7.
For several weeks or even a few months before and after each of these passages, as our faster-moving Earth overtakes the outer planet, the planet appears to move westward, or retrograde, in our sky. A planet retrogrades in our sky when the vector from Earth to the planet rotates clockwise as seen from “above,” or north of our solar system. Pay careful attention to the positions of the planets against the stars, and you will notice changes—Saturn in June and July is conveniently located near two easy naked-eye stars, Delta and Gamma in the tail of Capricornus.
Using binoculars of 50mm aperture or better before twilight begins (and before Mercury rises), you can spot 7.9-magnitude Neptune, in Pisces in June, 8.6 to 12 degrees to the west of Jupiter, except when the moon is bright. Uranus, of magnitude 5.8 in Aries, becomes visible after mid-month. For details on locating these faint planets and more, visit Sky Calendar Extra Content Page, at www.abramsplanetarium.org/msta.
To subscribe to the Sky Calendar or to view another sample issue, visit www.abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar.
Robert Victor originated the Abrams Planetarium monthly Sky Calendar in October 1968, and still produces issues occasionally, including the June 2022 issue. He enjoys being outdoors sharing the wonders of the night sky. Robert Miller, who provided the twilight charts appearing in the online version of this column, did graduate work in planetarium science and later astronomy and computer science at Michigan State University and remains active in research and public outreach in astronomy.