Brilliant Venus in west from dusk until mid-to-late evening. Venus – the brightest planet and third-brightest sky object overall (after the sun and moon) – reaches its greatest elongation in the western sky on June 6. That means it is at its farthest from the sun on our sky’s dome, for this evening apparition, during June 2015. Venus stays out for over three hours after sunset this month, as seen from around the world. What’s more, Venus gets closer to Jupiter all month, to stage a close conjunction on our sky’s dome by the month’s end.
Throughout June 2015, brilliant Venus beams like a lighthouse as darkness falls! At mid-northern latitudes, Venus stays out quite late, possibly after your bedtime. Be sure to catch the wonderful presence of the moon in Venus’ vicinity for several days, starting on June 18 or June 19.
Venus – the brightest star-like object in all the heavens – dominates the western sky as darkness falls. However, you can’t miss another brilliant beauty – the planet Jupiter – above Venus in the evening sky.
Bright Jupiter from dusk until late evening. Jupiter and Venus will come closer and closer together on the sky’s dome throughout June, 2015. In late June and early July, Venus and Jupiter will stage their closest conjunction until August 27, 2016!
Once you see Jupiter at dusk or nightfall, you won’t mistake it for anything else – except, possibly, brighter Venus, which shines lower down than Jupiter in the west at evening twilight.
Jupiter shines more brilliantly than any star. It’s the second-brightest planet after Venus.
In early June 2015, Venus sets in the west at mid-to-late evening, leaving the king planet Jupiter to rule over the evening sky for an hour or two after Venus sets. In early June, at mid-northern latitudes, Jupiter sets in the west about 3.5 hours after sunset. By the end of June 2015, when the two planets are in conjunction, or nearly so, they’ll be setting at about the same time, about 2.5 hours after the sun.
If you have binoculars or a telescope, be sure to check out Jupiter’s four major moons, which look like pinpricks of light on or near the same plane. They are often called the Galilean moons to honor Galileo, who discovered these great Jovian moons in 1610. In their order from Jupiter, these moons are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
These moons circle Jupiter around the Jovian equator. In cycles of six years, we view Jupiter’s equator edge-on. So, in 2015, we get to view a number of mutual events involving Jupiter’s moons through a high-powered telescope. Click here or here or here for more details.
Click here for a Jupiter’s moons almanac, courtesy of Sky & Telescope.
Fading Mars lost in the glare of the sun. Mars has lingered in our western twilight sky for many months, and it continues to fade in brightness, officially passing into the morning sky on June 14, 2015. Most likely, you won’t see Mars at all this month.
Saturn from nightfall until dawn. Around the world, the golden planet Saturn lords over the southeast or eastern sky at nightfall and stays out until dawn, or nearly so! The ringed planet goes westward across the sky during the nighttime hours, and is found in the southwest during the dark hour before dawn.
Watch for the almost-full and full moon to shine close to Saturn (and the star Antares) for several days, most notably on June 1 and June 2. The moon will pass Saturn again this month, from around June 27 to 29.
Binoculars don’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings. For that, you need a small telescope.
Saturn’s rings are inclined somewhat more than 24o from edge-on in June 2015, exhibiting their northern face. A few years from now, in October 2017, the rings will open most widely, displaying a maximum inclination of 27o. As with so much in space (and on Earth), the appearance of Saturn’s rings from Earth is cyclical. In the year 2025, the rings will appear edge-on as seen from Earth. After that, we’ll begin to see the south side of Saturn’s rings, to increase to a maximum inclination of 27o by May 2032.
Mercury at dawn, in second half of June. Mercury is our solar system’s innermost planet and always stays near the sun in our sky. As seen from the Southern Hemisphere, Mercury will become visible in the morning sky around June 10 or so. Here, at mid-northern latitudes, we may not get our first glimpse of Mercury until June 22 or 23. Mercury reaches its greatest morning elongation from the sun on June 24.
Those at northerly latitudes aren’t quite as lucky this month. Morning dawn comes sooner before sunrise during our Northern Hemisphere summer than it does in the Southern Hemisphere (where it’s winter), so Mercury is more deeply buried in the glare of the morning twilight at northerly latitudes. Try scanning with binoculars, if you’re in a northerly location.
At temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, this world actually rises before the onset of dawn from about June 14 to July 6, 2015. Look for Mercury over the sunrise point on the horizon as darkness first gives way to dawn. Click here to find out Mercury’s rising time in your sky, and for the time at which astronomical twilight begins.
Binoculars are always recommended to enhance sky views! Click here for recommended almanacs. They can help you know when Mercury rises in your sky.
Mercury will stay in the morning sky until July 23, 2015. Then it’ll pass into the evening sky, to give the Southern Hemisphere its most favorable apparition of Mercury for the year. Mercury will be in fine view for southerly latitudes from about mid-August to mid-September 2015. At northerly latitudes, this upcoming evening apparition of Mercury in August and September is about as unfavorable as it gets.
What do we mean by visible planet? By visible planet, we mean any solar system planet that is easily visible without an optical aid and that has been watched by our ancestors since time immemorial. In their outward order from the sun, the five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These planets are visible in our sky because their disks reflect sunlight, and these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light than the distant, twinkling stars. They tend to be bright! You can spot them, and come to know them as faithful friends, if you try.
Bottom line: Three of the five visible planets are exceptional in the evening sky throughout June 2015: Venus, Jupiter shine in the west first thing at dusk, and Saturn lords over the southeast sky as darkness falls. For the Southern Hemisphere, Mercury presents a good morning apparition in the east before sunrise, starting around June 10.