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June 17, 2024

Backyard Astronomy: Astronomy for Morning People (2003-06-09)

By Cheryl Haimann

There is plenty of heartache available for amateur astronomers.
--Daylight saving time means it does not get completely dark until almost bedtime for 8 to 5 workers.
--Meteor showers occur on cloudy nights.
--Eclipses occur somewhere other than where you are, often on another continent or in the middle of an ocean.
--The varieties of inclement weather (extreme temperatures, precipitation, humidity, clouds) far outnumber the varieties of nice weather.
--If all of those variables are in your favor, then you are stuck in a brightly lit city.
--And if you can get out of the city, the full moon will wash out all but the brightest objects.

This is one of those moony weeks, when the moon is up longer and growing larger each night, until it is full on Saturday, June 14. What can a backyard astronomer do?

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The almost-full moon is not just bright at night, you know. It is also bright during the day. For a few days before and after the full moon, the moon is bright enough to see during the day.

Before the moon is full, it rises in the afternoon, a bit later each day. When it is full, it rises at about the same time the sun sets, and sets at sunrise. Then for the next few days, as it continues to rise later, it also sets later, meaning you can still see it in the morning.

If you have binoculars, point them towards a daytime moon. The full moon is eye-searingly bright when observed through binoculars at night. Look during the day, though, and you can still see a lot of detail without feeling like the victim of a flashbulb in a dark room.

Late-to-bed or early-to-rise types have another viewing opportunity this month. The big astronomical event of the year is just beginning to shape up, and right now the action is in the pre-dawn hours.

Mars is on a path that, at the end of August, will bring it closer to Earth than it has been in 2,000 years As it nears Earth, it will also grow larger and brighter than it has been since the invention of the telescope. In June, the brightness will increase from magnitude -0.7 to -1.4. (Magnitude numbers are larger for dimmer objects. The very brightest objects have negative number magnitudes.) On June 15, the magnitude will be -1.0, already brighter than any star in the summer sky. Arcturus, the brightest of the spring stars, is just a bit brighter than magnitude 0.

Early in June, Mars is rising in the early morning. By the end of the month, it will rise before midnight. Right now, it rises in the southeast between 1:00 and 2:00 AM. By 4:30 AM, it is well up in the south. How far up depends on where you are. The farther south you are in the northern hemisphere, the higher it will be in the sky.

Mars is in a part of the sky without any bright pointer stars. That's really the simplest way to find it. Look to the southeast. What's the brightest thing you see? Watch it for two minutes. If it doesn't flash or move, then it is Mars. If it does flash or move, it is an airplane. Either way, don't go calling the UFO people.
Article © Cheryl Haimann. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-06-09
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