As June is the month of the Summer Solstice and the Longest Day, our night sky never quite gets dark and it’s not the greatest for spotting faint stars. However, there are 2-3 hours when you can spot the Summer Constellations that are up in the southern night sky just now and you can use the four bright stars, Arcturus, Antares, Vega and Spica to find your way around them. Meanwhile, Venus is brighter than anything else apart from the moon and you can find it shining as the “Evening Star” low down on the western horizon as night falls. Finally, we can expect to see a partial eclipse on June 10 when sun will be about 40% covered by the moon’s shadow.
This month, the sun sets around 10:00 pm, so the stars and the constellations start won’t become visible until about 11:30 pm and with sunrise at about 4:30 am, it means that you only have about 2-3 hours to spot them. In fact, it never really gets dark, but it is possible to spot the Summer Constellations that are up in our southern sky just now. Unlike the few, big and bright Winter Constellations, these Summer Constellations are more numerous, smaller and fainter, but you can use four bright stars that are easy to find to navigate your way around them. These stars are Arcturus, Antares, Vega and Spica.
Above Scorpius, you will find Ophiuchus (the Serpent-Bearer). It is a large constellation, which straddles the celestial equator, and it is commonly depicted as a man grasping a snake. This snake is represented by the constellation of Serpens (the Serpent), which is immediately to the west of Ophiuchus. Above Serpens is the semi-circular constellation of Corona Borealis (the Northern Crown), which is made up of 4 bright stars that represent the crown of Ariadne, daughter of King Minos in Greek mythology, who helped the hero Theseus kill the Minotaur and find his way out of the labyrinth in which the creature lived.
High up in the south-eastern sky, you will find Vega, the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra (the Lyre) and the fifth brightest star in our night sky. Vega acts as the guide star to the Keystone, a rectangle of four stars in the constellation Hercules, the fifth largest constellations in our night sky. To find the Keystone, trace a straight line from Vega and towards Arcturus. You will find it about one third of the way along this line. The Keystone represents the body of Hercules and is home to M13, the Great Global Cluster, a bee-like swarm of a third of a million red giant stars. It is one of the brightest globular clusters and although it is visible to the naked eye, it will be easier to see when using binoculars or a small telescope.
The first quarter Moon (a half moon) is on 18 June and the following night, you will see the half-Moon sitting above Spica, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo. Just under a week later, on 24 June, the full Moon will rise in the south-east just before 11:00 pm. In Colonial America, this full Moon was referred to as the Strawberry Moon because this was when these little red berries ripened. Europeans have dubbed it the rose moon, while other cultures named it the hot moon because it occurred at the beginning of the summer heat.
Similar to last month, June’s full Moon will be a supermoon (full Moons are those within 228,420 miles of Earth) and the fourth of four supermoons that occur in 2021. This one will be the third biggest and brightest full Moon of the year at only 224,662 miles away from Earth and because it happens in June it is termed a Super Strawberry Moon.
A few days after this full Moon, early on 27 June, you will find the Moon setting low in the south, with Saturn above and to the left of it, while the following morning of 28 June it will be sitting in between Saturn and Jupiter. The Moon moves further to the left on 29 June, rising in the south-east at around 1:30 am with Jupiter sitting very close to it as it travels westward, low down on the southern horizon.
This is a great month for spotting Venus as it will be brighter than anything else in the night sky, apart from the Moon. You’ll find it low on the western horizon in the dusk twilight, just before it sets at around 11:00 pm. As the month passes, Venus gets higher in the sky, moving up and to its left to get closer and closer to Mars, which is almost 200 times fainter than this “Evening Star”.
On 23 June, you find Mars low in the evening twilight, right in front of the Beehive (Praesepe) Star Cluster. It will be well worth looking at through binoculars or a small telescope as this is a wonderful swarm of a thousand stars. In fact, it is one of the nearest open cluster of stars to us, with a larger population of stars than most other nearby clusters.
Saturn rises in the south-east at about 1:00 am, while Jupiter follows about half an hour later, rising above the horizon at a point below and to the left of Saturn. Half an hour after that, a very faint Neptune follows Jupiter to appear above the horizon but is may not possible to see it as the dawn twilight approaches.
June is a quiet month meteor showers as most of them occur when it is daylight. In reality, we need to wait until the Perseid Meteor Shower in August for our next good show. Radiating from the constellation of Perseus, It will peak on the night of 11-12 August. This year, the Moon will only be 13% full on that night and is expected to set as the meteors begin to appear so, you will likely see around 50 to 75 meteors per hour if the sky is clear. Also look out for them on the nights before and after as they will probably put on a good show then too.
This year, the Summer Solstice will occur on 21 June at 03:32 GMT (04:43 BST) and is the exact moment when the northern hemisphere is tilted most towards the Sun. However, many people refer to the Summer Solstice as the Longest Day of the year, when the number of hours of daylight are at their maximum and the number of hours of night are at their minimum. On 21 June this year, our sunrise will be 4:30:17 am and our sunset will be 10:19:33 pm, giving us 17 hours, 49 minutes and 16 seconds of daylight. On June 20, our hours of daylight will be 6 seconds less and on June 22 they will be 3 seconds less.
Annular Solar Eclipse
On 10 June an annular solar eclipse will appear over Canada, Greenland and Siberia, when the Moon will pass between Earth and the Sun, thereby partly obscuring the image of the Sun for a viewer on Earth. During an annular eclipse, the Moon's apparent diameter is smaller than the Sun's, so it block’s most of the Sun's light and cause the Sun to look like an annulus or ring.
Here on the Peninsulas, we can expect to see a partial eclipse and while it will not be as spectacular, it will still be a sight to witness and fortunately for us, the further north and west you are the more complete the eclipse will be. In the south-east of the UK, you can expect about 20% of the Sun to be covered by the moon’s shadow, but here in the north-west, we can expect the Sun to be covered by about 40%. Look out for the eclipse from about 10:00 am on June 10, when the Moon will first appear to take a bite out of the Sun, after which it will reach maximum eclipse and then move off the Sun at around 1:00 pm.
Hi, I’m Steven Marshall, a Scottish landscape photographer based at Rockpool House in the heart of the beautiful West Highland Peninsulas of Sunart, Morvern, Moidart, Ardgour and Ardnamurchan. Get in touch for photography tuition, tours and print sales.