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June's Observing Highlights: A Supermoon Shines Bright

June 2013 Full Moon ChumackThe term "Supermoon" only became popular in recent years as the press got hold of the idea and it became a buzzword in the populace. In June, the moon reaches perigee, or the closest point in its orbit around Earth, on June 23 at 4:09 a.m. PDT, just minutes before the moon becomes 100-percent lit, at 4:32 a.m. PDT. This moon, which is closer and larger than other full moons of the year, has earned it the nickname Supermoon. While you’ll hear plenty of talk with this new nickname, the full moon of June has also historically been known as the Strawberry Moon.

The moon, no less super although not full, will pair up with a couple objects earlier in the month providing for decent photo-ops. On June 10 the crescent moon is to the left of Venus and Mercury. On June 18 catch the moon just to the left of Spica, while Saturn observes from just a bit farther away to the moon's left.

The planets are still spreading out after their intimate clustering in May. On June 1, the planets will form an almost evenly spaced line as Mercury lies a little more than four degrees above Venus, which is a little more than four degrees above Jupiter. Jupiter then drops toward the sun and leaves Venus and Mercury alone for one last meeting. The speedy motion of Mercury has begun to slow, allowing Venus to catch up with it, and the pair are only two degrees apart from June 18-20. Venus, still at magnitude -3.9, will be to the right of Mercury, which will have dimmed to magnitude 1.3. Mercury then leaves Venus to follow Jupiter’s tracks back down toward the horizon where it will meet with the sun.

The weather warms in the Northern Hemisphere as we head toward the summer solstice. But first up comes a gentle meteor shower known as the June Lyrids. The shower occurs over the weekend of June 15/16 and has a rate of about 9 meteors an hour. The solstice follows soon after, the exact date of which depends on where you live. For those on the East Coast, the solstice occurs at 1:04 a.m. EDT on June 21, while those on the West Coast get to usher in summer a day earlier, at 10:04 p.m. PDT on June 20.

Summer skies are a great time to observe the Milky Way, which runs overhead from horizon to horizon. Closer to the southern horizon you’ll find the constellation of Sagittarius, notable for the teapot asterism. When you are looking toward the teapot in Sagittarius, you are looking toward the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Use binoculars or a telescope to scan this region of sky and you’re likely to run across deep-sky objects such as the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae and globular cluster M55.

(Photo: Full Moon by John Chumack.)

HS_KellyWhittKelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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