Hey, Sky Fans!!!!!!!! Woah… it’s a nice day and all, and I’m glad you stopped in, but I’m not that excited. My keyboard’s a little sticky today on account of my kids thinking they’re better at eating ice pops and playing Pitfall! or Ms. Pac Man (or whatever video games kids play today) than they are. We will persevere, though.
This week, we have a couple cool things happening in the sky. Got a couple minutes? Let’s chat.
Just the other day, the Moon zipped through its new Moon phase. That’s the one when the Moon gets between the Sun and the Earth. Since the Moon doesn’t make any light of its own, it just reflects sunlight, and all of the sunlight that hits the Moon during the new phase bounces back in the direction of the Sun, we can’t see it. It doesn’t help that it rises along with the Sun and is lost in the Sun’s glare.
I mention this because with this new Moon, the Moon has just two trips around the block until the big, snazzy total solar eclipse on August 21. I have a couple of articles in mind about the eclipse that I’ll do later. For now, though, we can start watching the Moon, seeing where it goes and does whatever it is the Moon does, and we can start to piece together the endgame, the close of the story, the denouement, if you like, and see how the drama builds before the big moment.
So, tonight, maybe head out with the trash just after sunset, and I mean it, like right after. A very thin crescent, only about 5% lit, will be in the west’s still-bright twilight (civil twilight?) and make for a gorgeous end to the start of the week. You’ll notice that the other 95% of the Moon is actually lit a little bit, too. That’s earthshine. It’s sunlight that reflected off Earth, hit the Moon, and bounced back to your eye. It’s a pretty great thing, and is best seen during these young phases.
By the time the sky gets dark enough for us to make out the bright star Pollux, setting to the right of the Moon, and Castor, to Pollux’s right, they’ll all be getting pretty low, close to the horizon, so, if you happen to be lost at sea, at least you have that going for you. The rest of us will have to make do with the early part of this, which will still be wonderful.
Over the next couple of nights, keep an eye on the Moon. You’ll see its phase grow, the crescent get thicker as Sun-Earth-Moon line straightens and day breaks across the near side of the Moon. It’ll be higher and more and more to the south and east — toward the left — at the same time each night. As you watch, try to imagine what’s happening. We’re actually seeing the Moon move in its orbit around Earth. Each shift, night by night, is a little farther around, before it eventually makes it back for July 23’s new Moon.
Tomorrow night, June 27, the Moon will skim just past Regulus, Leo’s brightest star, but miss it by about half a degree. That’s really, really close and is worth looking for. The Moon occults, blocks out, Regulus from time to time, but this is not one of those times.
If you want to see the Moon block out a star, maybe sort of a warm up for blocking out the Sun, tune in on Friday night, what’s that… June 30… you can watch as the Moon, blocks out Porrima, the constellation Virgo’s second brightest. Porrima is one of those great, off-brand stars that I love so much. It’s a double star, two stars orbiting each other, about 38 light years away, and looks, at the moment to be just off to the west/right of the very bright planet Jupiter. The exact timing of that is important, so my advice would be to keep an eye on it on and off through the night and see what you can see. For what it’s worth, in my muggy and gnat-infested corner of the northeast, it’ll be just before 11:00 PM. More info on timing is waiting here.
Then, July comes in with a terrific Jupiter-Spica-Moon triangle all night Saturday, the first into the 2nd.
It’s going to be a fun few days under the skies. I hope you’ll take a look. Clear skies, everyone!