Soon after the sun sets and the sky becomes sufficiently dark to see the brighter stars, our attention is drawn to not one, but three bright planets. High in the southern part of the sky we can see silvery-white Jupiter, while low in the south-southeast glows amber colored Mars, while cream-colored Saturn is coming up over the southeast horizon.
If you’re up at dawn and in a sporting mood you might try to glimpse speedy Mercury, though its viewing circumstances do not particularly favor Northern Hemisphere skywatchers. As for the most brilliant planet of all, Venus is out of the loop all month long as it transitions from a morning to evening object; it’s simply too near to the sun to see.
In our schedule, remember that when measuring the angular separation between two celestial objects, your clenched fist held at arm’s length measures roughly 10 degrees. Here, we provide some of the best planet-viewing times as well directing you as to where to look to see them.
All month: Mars, having made its closest approach to Earth on May 30, now begins to recede and consequently will appear from here on to gradually fade and shrink in apparent size. On June 1, this fiery colored object shined at magnitude -2.0, only a trifle fainter than Jupiter according to Observer’s Handbook of the Royal Astronomical Society (some other sources list Mars and Jupiter as shining at the same magnitude).
At the start of June, Mars was about 47.3 million miles (76.1 million km) from Earth. By month’s end, however, its distance from Earth will have increased to 53 million miles (85.2 million km) and it will have faded to magnitude -1.4; still dazzling, but only about one-half as bright as it was at the beginning of the month. In small telescopes Mars will also appear nearly 12 percent smaller than it did on June 1.
Mars remains within the boundaries of the zodiacal constellation of Libra (the Scales) all of this month. It appears as a bright and imposing yellow-orange light low in the east-southeast sky at dusk and remains in the sky for much of the night. Even by June 30, it does not set until around 2:30 a.m. your local time.
June 3 – Saturn ascends the southeastern sky during early evening and moves westward through the night as the Earth turns. On June 3, it becomes the third planet of the year to reach opposition, that is, to be opposite the sun in our sky. For the rest of the summer Saturn will remain in the evening sky, fading slightly as Earth pulls ahead of it in its orbit. Saturn is shining at magnitude 0.0, unusually bright for this faintest of the five classical naked-eye planets. The reason is that its rings are tilted toward Earth by 26 degrees, presenting a larger-than-normal profile. The rings will be tilted to their maximum extent, 27 degrees, in October 2017.
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SOURCE: Space.com, Joe Rao