Even as we approach the first day of summer, the Big Dipper remains high in the sky, making for an excellent guide to the bright stars and constellations of June for this months Gateway to the Stars. The familiar shape of the Big Dipper makes it a great way to learn “star hopping.” This is the popular technique for jumping from one star pattern to another, thereby locating other bright stars, constellations, planets, and even deep sky objects (star clusters, nebulas, and galaxies).
For example, when the Big Dipper is high in the sky at this time of year, we can use the curve of its three handle stars to “Arc to Arcturus” and then “Spike to Spica.” Arcturus is the brightest star in Bootes the Herdsman, while Spica is the brightest in Virgo the Goddess of Harvest. Using the bright stars as your guideposts, you can work with a simple sky map to “star hop” and find the rest of the stars in a constellation or track down specific features in the sky…
Star hopping allows you to pinpoint targets in the sky for your binoculars and telescopes. For example, we’ll show you how a simple star hop from Arcturus can get you to M3, a beautifully rich globular cluster holding hundreds of thousands of stars. Or how another hop from Spica can point out M104, the Sombrero Galaxy, another island of stars like the Milky Way over 30 million light years away.
For months we had the visual treat of brilliant Venus as a super-bright star shining in the west after sunset. But now it seems to have vanished. Of course it’s still out there – it has simply moved into a position between the Earth and the Sun which makes it lost in the Sun’s glare (we would say that Venus is in “conjunction” with the Sun). Most of the time when Venus is in conjunction like this, it passes either above or below the Sun’s disk from our vantage point on Earth. But in very rare times, Venus lines up so closely that it will actually move across the disk of the sun, called a “transit.” An excellent explanation of the upcoming June 5 transit of Venus is in the May 22 blog by our Director Seth Jarvis.
We’ll also give you a preview of the June 4 partial lunar eclipse, so don’t miss this month’s installment of “Gateway to the Stars”! Showtime is Saturday, June 2 at 6:45 pm in the Hansen Dome Theatre. Tickets are $1. Members are free.