June 18 – 19, 2021: The waxing moon is moving through Virgo. On June 18, it is near Porrima. The next evening, the moon is above Spica.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Step outside an hour after sunset during the next few evenings. The waxing moon, past the First Quarter moon phase, is in the south-southwest. It is moving eastward in Virgo. Last night, the moon was in the constellation near the second brightest star in this pattern, Zavijava, and below the tail of Leo.
During the next two evenings, the moon moves farther eastward and the phase grows from 61% illuminated to 72%.
As the moon’s phase continues to grow, it brightly illuminates the ground. Even before this gibbous phase, the moon was casting shadows at night.
The effect occurring with the bright moon is similar to what we see on the moon when it displays crescent phases. On the moon we see a dimly-lit nightscape in the lunar night. Reflected sunlight from Earth’s oceans, land, and clouds gently illuminates the moon’s night portion.
When the moon is crescent in our sky, an observer on the moon would see a gibbous moon.
With the gibbous moon in the sky from Earth, from the moon, Earth’s phase is crescent. Earth is gently illuminated by moonshine.
During the next few evenings, here’s what to see.
June 18: The gibbous moon, 61% illuminated, is in the south-southwestern sky. It is 1.1° to the upper right of the star Porrima. In his 1944 publication about star names and their meanings, George Davis wrote the star is “the name of the Roman nymph or goddess of prophecy and child-birth, and one of the companions, or one of the ancient attributes, of Carmenta, the leader of Camenae.
June 19: The moon is over 5° above Spica – “the ear of corn.” The star is the 10th brightest star visible from mid-northern latitudes. The star’s blue tint indicates that it is hotter than the sun. At 250 light years away, the star shines with an intensity of over 3,600 suns. Of those ten brightest stars visible from the midlands, Spica is intrinsically the third brightest after Betelgeuse and Rigel.
In their book, The Friendly Stars, Martha Evans Martin and Donald Howard Menzel wrote poetically about the distant suns. They wrote, “During the short evenings in June, Spica lies toward the southwest, where in August it sets about ten o’clock, in September about 8 o’clock, and in October about the same time the sun goes down. It can be seen between sunset and mid-night in some part of the sky from the middle of February to the early part of October” (p. 25).
Composed in 1907 and revised afterwards, the book needs another updating, but the stellar connection it inspires is worth the read. Martin’s original composition is in the public domain. From an internet search, a book’s revision (with Menzel) is available from some resellers and part of it is on Google books.
Spica passes behind the sun on October 17 and then begins a quick climb into the morning sky. By early November it is low in the east-southeast sky before sunrise.
Step outside during the next few evenings to catch the moon with the stars of Virgo.
Articles and Summaries.
- Venus as an Evening Star
- Venus Evening Star (Summary)
- Mars during 2021 (Summary)
- Planets during June 2021
November 6, 2021: The midpoint of Autumn occurs today.
November 3, 2021: Before sunrise speedy planet Mercury, the crescent moon, and the star Spica are grouped together. The trio does not appear this close together again until 2033.
October 31, 2021: There is no Halloween Full moon this year, and the phase is not close. The crescent moon is in the morning sky. Mercury is low in the east-southeast before sunrise. The planet pack – Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter – gleam in the evening sky.
October 29, 2021: Venus reaches its greatest elongation from the sun. It is in the evening sky with Jupiter and Saturn. The crescent moon and Mercury are in the eastern sky before sunrise.
October 29 – November 1, 2021: The crescent moon moves in front of the stars of Leo in the eastern sky before sunrise. Watch the moon appear lower and the phase shrink (wane) each morning. Also note that there is no Full moon on Halloween this year!