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Focus on Mars

The winter Milky Way is starting to return to our rural evening skies. It can be seen low in the east after sunset, and will move gradually overhead over the next couple of months. Once overhead it is a spectacular sight.

Have a look one moonless night; the people of Canberra cannot see the Milky Way as clearly, due to the glare of all the street lights.

Bright stars this month include blue white Canopus, low in the south west, orange Arcturus low in the north, yellow Alpha Centauri high overhead (close to the Southern Cross), and red Antares, close to the planets Mars and Saturn in the constellation Scorpius.

Chart (9pm on the 15th June) produced using the Stellarium software package

Mars at its best

There are three bright planets visible in our evening skies during June; Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

The planet Mars is very easy to identify as a very bright red ‘star’ high up in the east after sunset. It is unmistakable, and was at its closest point to the Earth on the 30th May.

Through a telescope Mars presents a fairly large orange coloured disc, with dark surface desert markings and bright white clouds and fog, which vary from day to day. Although it will be seen for some months to come it will rapidly move away from the Earth and becomes a lot smaller in size, making it difficult to see the surface markings.

Accompanying this article is a picture of Mars taken from Bungendore on the 20th May. It shows the colour of the ‘red planet’ very well, along with a tiny white polar cap at the top and extensive dark markings. These include towards the top left the ‘Mare Acidalium’, the ‘Margaritifer Sinus’ (the pipe-shaped dark region towards the bottom right) and the extensive ‘Mare Erythreaeum’ at the bottom left. The bright patch at the bottom is cloud and fog inside a giant impact basin called ‘Argyre’. There are some great sounding place names on Mars!

It is amazing what can be seen with only a small back yard telescope. If you have one take this opportunity to see Mars for yourself, we will not see it as clearly until July 2018.

In June, Mars can be seen with a small telescope.
In June, Mars can be seen with a small telescope.

Jupiter is also visible this month, as a bright yellowish ‘star’ low towards the north west after sunset. Jupiter was described in detail in Star Search a couple of months ago, is now moving away from Earth and is becoming fainter in our skies. It will continue to be visible until it moves behind the Sun as seen from Earth later in the year.

Jupiter’s Moons can be seen through a pair of binoculars, take a look if you have some.

The third bright planet visible this month is Saturn, seen as a fainter yellowish ‘star’ close to Mars in the north east after sunset. Saturn is opposite the Sun in our skies on the 2nd June and at its best for the year.

Saturn is spectacular when seen through a telescope, with its magnificent ring system on show, along with several of its moons. Saturn will be described in more detail next month.

The Moon is new on the 5th June, at first quarter (half) phase on the 12th, full on the 20th and at last quarter (half) phase on the 27th June.

Visit Dr David Weldrake website

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