Status Report

The Sky This Week 20-28 Jun 2003

By SpaceRef Editor
June 22, 2003
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The Moon wanes in the pre-dawn skies this week, passing through the dim constellations of autumn before disappearing into the gathering twilight glare. New Moon occurs on the 29th at 2:39 pm Eastern Daylight Time. Luna will look pretty lonely this week, as she doesn’t pass close to any object that’s brighter than third magnitude. Skywatchers at the beach who have an ocean horizon to the east and a clear sky may just catch a glimpse of the very slender crescent Moon about 2 degrees above the bright glimmer of Venus half an hour before sunrise on the 28th.

The Summer Solstice occurs on the 21st at 3:10 pm EDT. At this moment the center of the Sun’s disc reaches its northernmost point in the sky, briefly touching the Tropic of Cancer before beginning its slow six-month slide into winter. If you were standing at the southern tip of Baja California at this time, you would effectively cast no shadow except for a very small one centered on your feet. With Old Sol lying directly overhead, the brim of your hat would be the only source of shade.

Most folks think of the summer solstice as being the longest day of the year, which indeed it is. Daylight in Washington will last for 14 hours 54 minutes. However, the earliest sunrise occurred about a week ago, and the latest sunset will happen on the evening of the 28th. Since most of us are more attuned to the evening hours, it will appear as if the days are still lengthening. Hopefully by then the meteorological season of summer will finally begin!

The long evening apparition of Jupiter is now finally drawing to a close. The giant planet has been a great source of entertainment from the crisp, long nights of January until now, when he sets just after the end of evening twilight. You can still catch a glimpse of him in the early evening sky as the golden glow of sunset slowly fades to black. At 9:30 pm he may be found about 20 degrees above the western horizon leading the springtime constellations of Leo and Virgo toward their seasonal rest. His lowering elevation against a bright sky background now limit the clarity of the view of Old Jove through the telescope, but if we happen to have a clear night with mild temperatures it wouldn’t hurt to take a last look before he disappears. We’ll have to wait until the dead of winter to get our next good look at him.

Ruddy Mars finally cracks the evening sky by the week’s end, rising just before midnight at that time. The red planet is drifting through the heart of Aquarius, a constellation whose brightest stars are barely third magnitude. Mars is still traveling eastward against the stars, but he has just about settled in the part of the sky where he’ll spend the better part of the next several months. If you’re up and out for a pre-dawn stroll on the beach, look for his cheery ruddy glow in the south.

SpaceRef staff editor.