Seven Planets plus Pluto
By Calvin L. Chrisman
During June, a diligent observer can see all seven planets and also the former planet, Pluto, if a large enough telescope is available. Starting in the evening, Saturn, Mars and Venus are visible to the naked eye shortly after sunset. They will form a diagonal line in the western sky with Saturn at the upper left and Venus at the lower right and close to the horizon. On June fifth and sixth, Mars (in the middle of the three planets) will be less than one degree from the bright star Regulus in the sickle of Leo. If you look at Saturn through a telescope, you will notice that its rings still appear fairly narrow, since they are only beginning to tilt upward from our perspective. This makes them harder to see well, but offers opportunities to get a better look at Saturn’s faint inner moons.
If you stay up until late night, you will find Pluto, Neptune, Jupiter and Uranus. Neptune and Uranus will require a telescope and Pluto, even though it is closest to Earth for this year, will require a telescope of eight inches or larger. Jupiter, of course, will be bright and brilliant, rising after midnight. If you do have a telescope, make sure to watch Jupiter’s moons and know that Jupiter and Uranus will be moving closer to one another as the month progresses. They reach conjunction on June 8th and will be only twenty three minutes (less than one-half of a degree) apart, close enough to be easily seen together in a telescope. This is the first of three such conjunctions in the next six months.
If you have made it this late, you may as well stay up until near dawn and look for Mercury to complete your planet hunt. Mercury rises an hour before sunrise, but, as always, it is faint and close to the horizon, making it a tough target. Binoculars will help you to spot it in the eastern sky. A good time to try to spot Mercury would be in the first weekend of the month because Jupiter will be in the eastern sky as well and will be shining close to the crescent moon. It should be quite pretty.
Last month, we talked about the Big Dipper. In some cultures, it is not seen as a dipper, but as a plow. We also mentioned Bootes, the faint constellation to its east, which is known as the herdsman. Bootes (pronounce both o’s: bō ōh tes) was said by the ancient Greeks to have been rewarded by the gods with a place in the sky for having invented the plow. This explains his position near the Big Dipper a.k.a the Plow.