Science | Skywatch with Bill Irwin

By Bill Irwin –

This issue finds us looking at the summer months, although recent weather has not precipitated summer thinking, yet.

June is the month of solstice where the sun reaches its highest northern declination for the year in the foot of Gemini the twins, fairly close to the showcase open cluster M35.

Solstice is a time when the sun’s northern drift comes to a stop and the inexorable fall to the winter solstice position in western Sagittarius begins. The full moon, being opposite the sun in the sky, will take up this low position in the sky around summer solstice.

Seasonal time seems to stand still around solstice. There is almost no change in the length of the day. Summer has arrived and if you ain’t got it in the ground by then, it’s probably too late. It’s a time of gatherings and the seasonal workload lightens (in theory at least).

At our latitude, the sun is not low enough below the horizon at midnight (or 1 a.m. daylight time, the middle of night) to give complete darkness. The darkest part of the sky is, fortunately, to the south, but the faintest stars disappear. You can still see the milky way at 1 a.m. and planetary and lunar observations are not affected. The deep sky objects, galaxies, and diffuse nebulae suffer the most. The effect is considerably less down near the US border, where you have gained about three degrees of south horizon. So, for about six to eight weeks, centered on solstice, observing is curtailed.

Jupiter will be the prominent object to the southwest in June / July, outshining anything else in the vicinity. Saturn is at opposition on June 14, which means it will be due south at 1 a.m. It is reaching the low point of its 27-year journey around the zodiac. Mars is ending its current apparition in July by crossing past the sun into the morning sky. It will not be readily visible until fall. But Venus will certainly be lighting your morning sky this summer. It will be very bright, as usual, and many will think they are looking at a UFO, as usual. If it starts moving erratically, you might be in trouble. Maybe they might be interested in your back collection of Mad magazines, or the Celestial Enquirer, to see if anything is written about them. Skywatch would likely be too mundane.

July and into August is prime time for summer observing. Most people remember warm August nights, looking at the Perseid meteor shower around August 11. The moon will still be bright this year at that time.

The Mt. Kobau star party (mksp.ca) happens in the last week of July this year. This date is somewhat early due to the August 21 total eclipse of the sun down in the US. The star party is still the very best way to get into astronomy as a hobby. There are at least 50 seasoned observers there with a myriad of telescopes of all descriptions. If you know a child who is already interested in science, I guarantee they will want to be an astronomer or something like that if you take them there. It’s down in Osoyoos at the top of Kobau mountain, 6000 feet, and the scenery is spectacular.

The total solar eclipse is, of course, the big event of the summer. The shadow of the moon races across the earth, making landfall on the Oregon coast and crossing the state over into Utah and then further east. The path of totality is narrow, roughly 50 km wide. The entire event is widely publicized and finding a good place to camp has proven to be harder than I thought if you are a last-minute person like me.

The Oregon star party would have been a great setting to observe it from, but that event was fully booked within two hours of being posted. Looks like it’s going to be an eleventh hour save at this point.

As usual, if you are interested in visiting the Bells Lake Observatory, I can be reached at irwin8sound@gmail.com or (250) 620-0596. The best things in life are free and the night sky is our heritage.

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