As the end of May approaches, and June begins, we notice darkness at midnight. Living in the 60-degree latitude and above means that in the months of June, July and the first week of August, the sky doesn’t even get truly dark.
Does this mean that northern astronomers will be putting all of their gear away because there is nothing to see in those fascinating Yukon Night Skies?
Absolutely not! There is always something to see in the sky, regardless of the time of year. No, we will not be able to see galaxies, star clusters and nebula. We will be able to see planets, bright stars, the moon and, of course, the sun (with the appropriate safety gear).
So let’s get started. The planet Venus is the first sight to see. Found low on the western horizon before sundown, Venus is the only thing in the sky visible at this time, so it is easily identified.
Trying to see the planet with a pair of binoculars before the sun goes down makes for an interesting challenge. Venus will be with us for the next couple of months but will remain low on the western horizon.
Next on the target list is the planet Saturn, with her wonderful rings and moons.
Hold on a minute, where are the rings?
If you have had a chance to see Saturn in a telescope lately, or have picked up an astronomy magazine, you will have noticed that Saturn’s rings are actually tilted toward us as we see them.
You will need a telescope to see this awesome sight but it is worth it. The region around Saturn is littered with moons, and the edge-on rings appear as spikes of light.
Saturn can be found by the constellation of Virgo high in the southwest shortly after sunset. Though dim, Saturn will be visible (barely) until mid-June.
The red planet Mars will also be visible, but only for a brief time. Also found in the western sky in the evening, this planet is very dim so you will need a pair of binoculars. As Mars is moving away from Earth, there is no detail visible, even in a telescope. By mid June, the sky will be too bright to see Mars.
Next, we have a planet for people who are early risers: Jupiter, the king of planets, will be making an appearance in the pre-dawn skies. Make sure that your observing site has a good view of the eastern horizon, because Jupiter is quite low.
Jupiter is my favourite planet for observing. In just about any size binoculars you can see the planet’s four moons. Pick up an astronomy magazine and see if you can identify which moon is which.
If you have a small spotting scope or telescope, you will be able to see the cloud belts as well. With a four-inch or larger aperture telescope you will be able to see detail in the cloud belts, and maybe even glimpse the Giant Red Spot, a massive storm larger than our planet.
Jupiter is very bright, so I am expecting it to be visible through most of the summer. A point of interest: Uranus will be passing a mere half degree from Jupiter on June 8, making a truly fine view and a great photo opportunity. Binoculars, spotting scopes and telescopes are just fine for observing this event.
The moon makes for fabulous viewing anytime and always has a wealth of detail waiting to be explored. With craters, mountains and lunar seas, you will never finish exploring the moon.
With the use of a lunar filter to cut out some of the excess light, the moon can be seen throughout the summer months in reasonable detail and contrast. These little filters range from $20 to $100 and are a must-own item for every amateur astronomer.
Check out the High Lights for summer lunar events.
Observing the sun has become popular with many amateur astronomers, as new technologies have made solar filters more affordable and increased their quality.
Never observe the sun without proper safety equipment! For around $100 you can purchase a glass solar filter that will let you see sunspots on the surface of the sun.
Better and more expensive solar filters and telescopes will let you see and photograph solar flares, the sun’s violent surface and much more. The sun will offer you an endless changing view from day to day, as sunspots cruise around and disappear, and new ones form.
As I own a couple of these filters, we will take on solar astronomy in the next column in much greater detail, and see what we can come up with.
As you can see, there are plenty of amazing sights to be seen in the Yukon summer skies, even with bright night skies.
Yes, the summer night skies down south are astounding, but we work with what we have.
We will be able to see a nice piece of what they are seeing in the summer night sky when it is mid-August in the Yukon.
Clear skies from James “Deep Sky” Cackette.
James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.