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What's Up for June 2017

It's an unfair world. All through the winter and spring the nights have been dark but it's been sooo cold. Now that the weather is getting warmer what happens? It hardly ever gets dark, particularly in Britain. You have to wait up till at least 10.30 pm in June to see any stars at all. And then you can hardly recognise any of them because they have changed totally since winter.

So that's where we come in. Use our easy-to-follow sky guide and you'll be out there stargazing in no time. Mind you, even June nights can get chilly, so don't catch your death of cold and make sure you put something sensible on. Don't worry, no-one can see you.

You will need a star map, and you will need to know how it works. This may seem obvious, but there is a knack to understanding these things. Here's our map for this month:

Sky for June 2017

Wrong way round?

Now don't write in and tell us that we have the points of the compass all wrong. This is a map of the sky, so you have to hold it over your head. When you do this, east and west will be the right way round.

It shows the whole sky, so the scale is quite small. Normally you turn to see different parts of it, so to see the view looking north, for example, hold the map upside down with north at the bottom. OK, smartie, so you can't hold the computer upside down.

The map shows the sky in mid June at about 10.30 pm, at the start of the month at 11.30 pm, or by the end of the month at 9.30 pm, though at this time of year the sky is too light to see anything at that time. All times are BST (Daylight Saving Time).

TIP If you aren't sure of the direction of north from your location, click here for a page on Getting Your Bearings.

Making sense of the stars

If it all looks just like a lot of dots, and drives you dotty, here's the way to get to grips with the sky. Start with something familiar and work from there. Most people recognise the seven stars that in the UK we call the Plough and in the US is called the Big Dipper. If you can't find it, it's because you aren't looking high enough – it's almost above your head at this time of year, so it's shown at the centre of this map.

If you think of the Plough as a saucepan, then follow its handle round towards the horizon, you first come to a bright star called Arcturus. Keep going and you come to Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. This year, nearby Jupiter is brighter, and you can see Spica to its left.

Now use the map below to find more patterns nearby, but don't expect to see those convenient lines helping you to see the patterns. If you do see them, consult an optician or give back those glasses your friends gave you on 1 April.

Map for June 1t with constellation names
All maps produced using Stellarium software.

Other constellations to look for

Look for Leo, which is to the right of Virgo. Then just above the tail of Leo is a faint but interesting constellation called Coma Berenices, which is always worth a look. In city skies you won't see it at all, but use binoculars and you'll spot a whole mass of stars, forming a star cluster.

To the left of Virgo are two stars which are the brightest in Libra. Now use these to pick out a giant cross in the sky, as shown on the map. This will help you to pick out the stars of Serpens Caput, the head of the serpent, and Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer.

Below Ophiuchus is Scorpius, the Scorpion, with the reddish star Antares marking the creature's heart, and the planet Saturn is to its left. From the UK we don't see the whole of the scorpion's tail, which is below and to the left of Antares, but we can see its claws, marked by three stars to its right, towards Libra.

If you want a map with all the constellation names on it, click here.

This month's planets

Right now we have two bright planets on view. Jupiter is shining very brightly over to the south-west. Take a look through binoculars and you'll probably see some of its four brightest moons on either side of it.

Saturn, photographed on 1 June using an 80 mm refractor by Robin Scagell

Saturn is also low down in the evening sky in the south-east, in the stars of Libra. You don't need a super-colossal telescope to see its rings – any reasonably good small telescope should show them using a magnification of 50 or more.  If it doesn't, it isn't (reasonably good, that is). But because the planet is very low in the sky this year – and will be for a few years to come – we don't get a very good view anyway because our own atmospheric turbulence causes the image to shimmer a lot.

Venus is in the morning sky at the moment, rising before dawn over in the east, so you'd need to be up very early (or going to bed very late) to see it.

Mercury is too close to the Sun to be seen.

For a detailed list of things happening in the sky, click here.

Don't forget the Moon

It begins the month at first quarter – that’s a half Moon – on the 1st, and then full Moon this month is on the 9th. Last quarter is on the 17th, then the month ends with New Moon on the 24th. You might see the crescent Moon in the western twilight on the 25th about an hour after sunset. 
This is the time of year when the full Moon, on the 9th, appears very low in the sky. The Moon also looks almost full on two or three days on either side of the actual date. You will probably think it looks bigger than usual, particularly as it stays closer to the horizon for longer than it does in winter, but this is just an optical illusion. If you don't believe us, try measuring its size against a ruler held at arm's length, then measuring it again when it's higher in the sky.
So why does it appear bigger? It's nothing to do with the atmosphere acting as a lens – it doesn't. There are all sorts of theories, the most likely being that your brain compares it with objects such as houses or trees in the foreground and realises that because it is behind them, it must be bigger. Some people find that if they look at the Moon by turning away from it, bending over and looking at it through your legs, so you don't recognise the foreground as much, the illusion disappears. Unlike all those experiments where they say 'don't try this at home', you may want to wait until there is no-one else around before attempting this one. 
We have a whole section of this site about the Moon and what to observe, so do take a look.

Get more helpful info

OK, you've read all this for nothing, now comes the plug. This page is brought to you by the Society for Popular Astronomy, which is a really great society to join. It's based in the UK but there are members in other countries as well. It doesn't cost much to join, and there is a special rate for Young Stargazers. At least take a look at what we have to offer. 
Text by Robin Scagell