Some months may not seem particularly exciting for stargazing when you first glance – like this month – and then you dig into the astronomical events to realize how much is actually going on. Planetary viewing opportunities, a small meteor shower, and a chance to see both a comet and an astroid form the basic highlights of what to see in the June night sky. Even the moon phases work in our favor with both a lunar and solar eclipse this month!
In addition to all this, the Milky Way dominates the June night sky in the northern hemisphere, and it’s easier to see than you realize. Grab your binoculars or telescope, a blanket, and head out to see the wonders of the night sky in June.
Did you know? These are some of the best stargazing events this month – but there are many other interesting events and good nights for stargazing all year long.
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June 5 – Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
Unless you’re out specifically to admire the moon, it’s usually the case that a full moon interferes with stargazing plans. That is, of course, unless there’s a lunar eclipse – which can only happen during the full moon.
Eclipses happen in triplets: a lunar eclipse, then a solar eclipse, then another lunar one. That means the first lunar eclipse of this set signals what’s to come: June 5th will be a penumbral lunar eclipse, and another will bookend the other moon cycle on July 4th. In between, an annular solar eclipse will turn the sun to a ring of fire on June 20th. Like the solar eclipse, this penumbral lunar eclipse is visible to those across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, as well as most of Europe, Australia, and Oceania.
Penumbral lunar eclipses are not as dramatic as their partial or full siblings, since there’s no red tinge to a penumbral one. If all you notice is a subtle dimming to the Moon on this night, that means you’re seeing the eclipse!
June 8 – Close Approaches of the Moon, Jupiter & Saturn
On the night of June 8th, both Jupiter and Saturn are in close proximity to the Moon. While Jupiter’s closest approach happens during the daylight hours, it will be just greater than 2°10′ separated from the Moon by the time the sun goes down. By that point, the Moon will be close to Saturn, just 2°38′ apart at their closest approach.
While you don’t need a telescope or binoculars to see either of the Gas Giants on this night, it will help – especially as a brightly lit Moon (86% illuminated) will create some light pollution during these close approaches.
June 12 – Close Approach of the Moon & Mars
To spot another planet this month, keep your eyes peeled on the night of June 12th. This night, the Moon and Mars will make a close approach, passing within 2°32′ of each other in the twilight window (depending on your latitude).
The moon will be only 50% illuminated this night, an improvement from a few nights earlier if you tried to spot Jupiter and/or Saturn during their close approaches.
June 18 & 22 – Comet C/2019 U6 (Lemmon) at Perihelion & Brightest
For a change of pace, try and spot a comet in June this year! Originally considered to be an asteroid, Comet C/2019 U6, also called Comet Lemmon, is making its closest approach to the sun – and will appear at its brightest – during this month. There’s even a chance Lemmon may grow bright enough to see with the un-aided eye.
On the night of June 18th, Comet Lemmon will get at its closest point to the sun (0.91 AU) during its parabolic orbit; a few nights later on June 22nd, it will reach its brightest at an estimated magnitude of 5.1-5.2. This is within the range for the human eye in a dark sky location – so it’s a great reason to plan a stargazing trip.
June 20 – June Solstice & Annular Solar Eclipse
June’s big astronomical event is happening during the day! On the June Solstice, the 20th, parts of the world will be treated to an annular solar eclipse. Often called a “Ring of Fire” of eclipse, the moon will pass between the earth and sun and create a spectacular fiery-looking sight in the sky – one that requires eye protection throughout the whole experience if you’re trying to view it.
The path of annularity will pass across Central Africa, East Africa, the Middle East, India, and southeast Asia; we’ve got a whole guide to this eclipse if you want to learn more about it.
June 25 – Conjunction of Jupiter & Pluto
If you want to try and spot Pluto, the night of June 25th is a good opportunity. On this night, Pluto and Jupiter will pass closely, within 0°41′ of one another. This is too wide for the frame of a telescope lens, but a good pair of astronomical binoculars will allow you to see the gas giant and dwarf planet together – or you can hop from Jupiter to Pluto with a telescope and star chart.
June 27 – Peak of the June Bootid Meteor Shower
Most meteor hunters skip the June Bootids each year, because their typical Zenith Hourly Rate (ZHR) is 1-2 per hour on an average year.
But don’t let that discourage you if you’re out on the night of peak activity on June 27th; some years this unpredictable meteor shower has a ‘burst’ of up to 100 meteors per hour. Nobody’s certain if that might happen in 2020 or not; the last burst year was in 1998.
June Bootids are also known for being extremely ‘long’ meteors, streaking slowly across a large portion of the sky due to the angle at which these meteors enter the earth’s atmosphere. So even if you only see one or two this year, they’ll likely be an impressive sight!
June 28 – Asteroid 7 Iris at Opposition
In the pre-dawn hours of June 28th, intrepid asteroid-gazers can try to spot 7 Iris – the fourth-brightest object in the asteroid belt. On this morning, 7 Iris will be at opposition, opposite the sun from our earthly perspective. This will make the normally bright asteroid appear even brighter.
For most viewers in the northern hemisphere, 7 Iris won’t appear high above the horizon so you’ll need a clear southwestern view and a telescope to try and see it; further south it’ll be higher in the sky and easier to spot (but you’ll still need the telescope!).
Take advantage of the summer season in the northern hemisphere! There some beautiful wonders and objects are waiting for you. Have questions about night sky events this June? Let us know in the comments.
Featured photo credit: Oliver Henze via Flickr