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Moon closing in on planet Saturn on June 9

The moon couples up with Mars on June 7, Spica on June 8 and Saturn on June 9.

Tonight for June 9, 2014

As seen from North America, the waxing gibbous moon will be to the west (right) of the planet Saturn on the evening of June 9, 2014. One day later, the moon will appear to the east (left) of the ringed planet as darkness falls on June 10.

If you’re at the right place on Earth, you might even be able to watch the moon occult – cover over – Saturn as it moves eastward in front of the stars and planets. To see this occultation, you have to be in southern South Africa or Antarctica. At Cape Town, South Africa, the moon will occult Saturn on June 10, 2014, from 7:16 p.m. to 8:16 p.m. local South Africa Standard Time (SAST). Click here for more information on this occultation of Saturn.

The moon will occult Saturn every month from now through October 25, 2014. But, to witness any occultation of Saturn by the moon, you have to be at the right place on Earth.

Planets near the moon – or even the moon passing in front of planets – are ordinary results of the moon moving along in its orbit around Earth. The moves an average 13o eastward daily in front of the constellations of the Zodiac. It goes around our sky about once each month, passing each planet again and again. The moon does shift its path across our sky a little from month to month. But, in the months ahead, the moon’s path will carry it in front of Saturn each month through October.

Throughout June 2014, three visible planets – Jupiter, Mars and Saturn – pop out as soon as darkness falls. Jupiter can be found low in the west after sunset and sets by early evening. Although Jupiter will be visible at dusk/nightfall all this month, the giant world will pass out of the evening sky and into the morning sky in the last week of July 2014. By around mid-August 2014, look for Jupiter to couple up with Venus for a stunningly close conjunction in the wee hours before sunrise.

In June, Mars and Saturn stay out until well after midnight. Watch for these two to pop out first thing at nightfall for many months to come. Saturn will be visible in the evening sky until October 2014, while Mars will adorn the evening sky for all of 2014.

Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all called superior planets because they orbit the sun outside of Earth’s orbit. Astronomers like to label the distances of solar bodies in terms of the astronomical unit. One astronomical unit (AU) = Earth/sun distance = 150,000,000 million kilometers or 93,000,000 miles. At their mean distances from the sun, Mars = 1.524 AU, Jupiter = 5.204 AU and Saturn = 9.582 AU.

Read more: June 2014 guide to the five visible planets

View larger. | Here is the full moon rising next to Saturn a month ago, on May 14, 2014.  See Saturn?  It's the little dot rising above the moon.  EarthSky Facebook friend Guillaume Doyen took this photo.  Thank you, Guillaume!

View larger. | Here is the full moon rising next to Saturn a month ago, on May 14, 2014. See Saturn? It’s the little dot rising above the moon. EarthSky Facebook friend Guillaume Doyen took this photo. Thank you, Guillaume!

Bottom line: As darkness falls on June 9 and 10, 2014, let the moon guide your sky to Saturn, the most distant world that’s easily visible to the unaided eye.

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