Five Naked-Eye… Umm… Things!

Hey, Sky Fans! Well, well, Friday is here again, and all the world is chirping. June’s flying by, and the solstice is less than a week away. Are you ready for the summer? This means, here in the north, we’re just about in the most day-timey week of the year. More daytime means less night, and less time under the stars. This doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see, though. It just means we need to be a little more patient with what we’re looking for. So, here’s five naked-eye things for one of the two brightest weekends of the year!

Let’s go!

  1. The enemy of Mars! The brightest star in Scorpius is Antares. It’s one of the biggest known stars, and the 15th brightest in the entire night sky. It’s so big that it would reach out into the main asteroid belt if it were dropped down in our solar system. That’s over 800 times the diameter of the Sun! Yeah, stats aside, its name comes from Greek for “rival of Ares” (Ares is the Greek name for the Roman god, Mars). When you see it rising into the southeast sky, you’ll see what the ancients saw: a bright, distinctly red-orange star, just like our neighbor, Mars, as the two got ready to rumble!
  2. Two space probes, hydrogen, helium, and 104 named moons! Look just to the left of Antares, and see noted hydrogen ball, Saturn, rise into the night, along with its 53 named moons, and the Cassini probe. It was at opposition just a couple of days ago, and will still be good and bright. Meanwhile, higher up, and toward the south, find unmistakably bright gas ball,  Jupiter, where Juno is making its way around among the biggest planet’s 51 named moons. Both of these old-timers have lots more moons than that, but many haven’t been named yet, including Joops’s two newly discovered ones.

    Saturn, Antares, and Jupiter and other things in the south sky
    Saturn, Antares, and Jupiter and other things in the south sky (from Stellarium)
  3. The Moon, hiding in plain sight! Grab your coffee and your egg sandwich and look midway up in the south’s sky tomorrow morning (Saturday,  June 17). There, hiding in plain sight, will be the third-quarter moon. That’s the one when the left-hand side, as we see it from here on Earth, is lit. Third-quarter Moons rise at midnight and set at midday, so by breakfast time it’s a great sight, quietly etched into the mellow,  morning blue.
  4. The Twins! Castor and Pollux are the twins of Gemini. In fact, Gemini is the Latin word for twins. It’s not like they’re Castor and Pollux Gemini, sons of Leda and Stan Gemini, down at the deli. Castor is a double star about 50 light years (LY) away, and Pollux is about 34 LY away. The two are among the brightest lights of winter, but they’re still kicking around, refusing to head off for their summer vacation. You’ll need to look fast, but you can see them poking through the twilight just above the western horizon as darkness falls. It’s a little piece of winter as summer’s heat settles in.

    Pollux and Castor in the west's sky (from Stellarium)
    Pollux and Castor in the west’s sky (from Stellarium)
  5. One of the most distant naked-eye stars! Two birds are high overhead on summer’s nights. Aquila, the eagle, and Cygnus, the swan, soar above us, separated by a small harp, which makes perfect sense and isn’t weird at all. We’ll talk more about them later, but Cygnus‘s brightest is Deneb, a big, blue super giant star over 2,500 LY away. That’s… carry the four… six… that’s really, really far at about six trillion miles to the light year, and one of the farthest stars us naked-eyeizers can see. Once the sky’s dark, head out and look toward the northeast. You’ll see it to the left of Altair, and below Vega, the other two stars of the summer triangle.

    Deneb, Vega, and Altair in the eastern sky
    Deneb, Vega, and Altair in the eastern sky (from Stellarium) 

I hope, if you have a few minutes, you can head out and have a look. Have a great weekend, everyone, and clear skies!

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