Venus and Mercury are visible in the western sky after sunset in June 2013. Jupiter was there early in the month, but is gone after the first week, only to return before dawn in late July 2013 for a spectacular conjunction with Mars in the predawn sky. For the Northern Hemisphere, June will provide the best evening showing of Mercury for 2013. Better yet, you can use Venus, the sky’s most brilliant planet, to locate nearby Mercury. Meanwhile, Saturn – shines noticeably brightly and highest up for the night around nightfall.
Special planetary events coming up in June 2013:
Evening planets in June
Jupiter at dusk, first week of June It’ll be hard to catch Jupiter blazing away in the harsh glow of dusk in the first week of June, but early June presents your best chance of spotting Jupiter after sunset this month. This world will sit close to the sunset point on the horizon (and on line with the planets Venus and Mercury) about 45 to 60 minutes after the sun goes down. After that, Jupiter will fade quickly from the evening sky as the king planet swings behind the sun on June 19, to transition from the evening to the morning sky. However, Jupiter will sitting in the glare of sunrise and not readily visible in the morning sky until July 2013.
Saturn (dusk until wee hours after midnight) Saturn is no match for Venus or Jupiter in brightness, but it’s still as brilliant as the brightest stars. It shines like a gentle beacon in the June 2013 nighttime sky. Earth flew between the sun and Saturn on April 28, so Saturn is still out for much of the night this month. Best yet, perhaps, Saturn lodges at its highest point for the night at nightfall. From mid-northern latitudes, Saturn is found in the southern sky after sunset.
Just as it did last year, Saturn is still shining relatively close to Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. You can distinguish Saturn from Spica by color. Saturn shines with a golden hue while Spica sparkles blue-white. Binoculars help to accentuate color if you have difficulty discerning the difference with the unaided eye.
Binoculars won’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings, but a small telescope will. The rings are inclined by nearly 17o from edge-on in June 2013, showing us their north face. The rings will appear open most widely in October 2017, displaying a maximum inclination of 27o. As with so much in space, 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.
If you have access to a telescope, you can also seek Saturn’s moons. Saturn’s largest and brightest moon Titan is fairly easy to observe in a small telescope.
Venus (dusk) Venus, the brightest planet, will remain in the evening sky for the rest of 2013. It’s fairly low in the western twilight this month, so an unobstructed horizon in the direction of sunset is best for observing Venus at dusk and early evening. Venus, whose cloud cover is very reflective of sunlight, ranks as the third-brightest celestial luminary after the sun and moon! The planet of love. How can anyone not enjoy Venus when it’s in the evening sky?
Mercury (dusk) Like Venus, Mercury climbs upward from the glow of evening twilight at the beginning of the month. Whereas Venus climbs upward from the setting sun all month long, Mercury slowly falls toward the sunset, starting on June 12. Mercury and Venus will meet up for a conjunction in the western evening sky on or near June 20. Mercury is fainter than Venus but brighter than most any star. Best of all, Mercury and Venus will occupy – or nearly occupy – a single binocular field from about June 1 to June 24.
You’ll want to catch the attraction low in the western sky after sunset in the first several weeks of June, because this is the Northern Hemisphere’s best chance of catching Mercury in 2013!
As the innermost planet, Mercury comes and goes in our sky rapidly. It’ll continue its evening apparition all month long, to swing from the evening to morning sky on July 9, 2013. It’ll return to visibility in the morning sky in late July and early August 2013.
Mars (not readily visible in June 2013) Mars swung behind the sun in late April 2013, and climbs away from the glow of sunrise throughout June 2013. You might be able to see Mars an hour or so before sunrise by the end of the month.
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: In June 2013, three of the five visible planets – Mercury, Venus and Saturn – can be found first thing at nightfall. They are beautiful and fun to watch. June presents Venus and Mercury within the same binocular field of view for the first several weeks of June! The other two visible planets – Mars and Jupiter – pretty much hide in the sun’s glare all month long. Info and charts here.