June 16, 2022: For southern hemisphere observers, the morning planets are in their full parade mode. Northern hemisphere observers continue to wait for Mercury to make its full appearance.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:15 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:28 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Sky watchers continue to wait for Mercury to appear higher in the sky at Chicago’s latitude. From more southerly latitudes, such as Tucson, AZ, the speedy planet is over 5° above the horizon at 45 minutes before sunup.
For our southern hemisphere readers, the planet parade is in full swing. Mercury is easily visible an hour before sunrise from the latitude of Sydney, Australia. The planet is nearly 10° up in the east-northeast, 10.5° to the lower right of brilliant Venus. Jupiter is over 50° above the north-northeast horizon. Mars is 10.2° to the lower right of the Jovian Giant. Saturn is nearly two-thirds of the way up in the sky above the west-northwest horizon.
From the sunrise point and westward, the order of the planets is Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – their order from the sun.
For our northern hemisphere readers, the planets’ directions and orientations are different from what we see. From south of the equator, the sun, moon and planets rise in the eastern sky, appear highest in the sky in the north. Yes, the sun is north at noon. Approaching the first day of winter, the sun is only about 33° above the northern horizon at midday. The sun, moon, and planets set in the western sky.
Back in Chicago, the bright morning moon, 95% illuminated, is about 20° up in the south-southwest before sunrise. It is to the upper left of the Teapot of Sagittarius. The stars are not among the sky’s brightest. A binocular may be needed or block the moon with your hand as you would to shield your eyes from the sun’s glare.
The lunar orb is approaching the morning planet parade. It appears near Saturn in two mornings.
The four-planet parade continues from the east-northeast to the south-southeast. Currently four bright planets – Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – are visible one hour before sunrise, spanning from brilliant Venus low in the north-northeast to Saturn in the south-southeast. Bright Jupiter and dimmer Mars are in between the ends of the parade.
Saturn, over 30° above the south-southeast horizon, is retrograding, moving westward compared to the starry background, in eastern Capricornus, near the star Deneb Algedi.
Forty-five minutes before sunrise, Mercury is less than 4° above the east-northeast horizon and 10.3° to the lower left of Venus. At this level of twilight, a binocular is needed to see the speedy planet, along with an unobstructed and cloud-free horizon.
At the end of twilight – about two hours after sunset – the stars shine brightly without the bright moon. Bright Vega is high in the eastern sky, while topaz Arcturus is over two-thirds of the way up in the sky in the southwest.
Starting at Vega and looking toward Arcturus takes our eyes across a region with dimmer stars that hold Hercules and Corona Borealis. Likely more famous than Orion in mythology, Hercules – nearest Vega – has stars that are dimmer than the Big Dipper’s. The figure is upside down as seen from north of the equator. The Keystone pattern is the easiest part to see.
The short side of the Keystone represents the Hero’s waist, while the stars on the opposite end make his knees. His shoulders are below, one is named, Kornephoros – meaning “ the club bearer.” A brighter star – Rasalgethi, meaning “the kneeler’s head” – is below its shoulders. Sometimes Hercules’ moniker is the Kneeler.
A star cluster visible along one side of the Keystone, cataloged as Messier 13 (M13), can been seen with a binocular or the unassisted eye in a dark location. M13 is a globular star cluster that has hundreds of thousands of stars, and it is perhaps 25,000 light years away.
Unlike the Pleiades and Beehive star clusters, globulars are densely packed with stars, revolve around the galaxy’s center outside the plane of the galaxy, and their chemistry is different from those in the galaxy’s plane.
About a century ago these clusters were mapped to indicate the approximate center of the galaxy and the sun’s place relative to that center.
Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, is west of Hercules and closer to Arcturus. Its brightest star is Gemma, also known as Alphecca – meaning “the broken or fractured one.” The pattern is an incomplete or broken circle of stars.
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