The month of June is name for Juno, the powerful Roman goddess who had many roles including being the goddess of marriage and childbirth, a special counselor for the state, and a protector of Roman people. Juno is equated to Hera in Greek mythology, who was the Queen of the gods, a daughter of Saturn, the wife of Jupiter – the god of the sky and thunder and the king of the gods – and the mother of Mars.
Juno was the perfect name for the NASA mission that arrived at Jupiter in July of 2016 and was recently extended to September of 2025. Juno will make several more close encounters with three of Jupiter’s four large Galilean moons, Ganymede, Europa, and Io. Juno has taken many great new pictures of the King of the Planets in the past six years and will make more important discoveries. Jupiter is 10 times the size of Earth in diameter and it has the mass of 318 Earths.
June always marks the beginning of summer for us in the northern hemisphere. This year that will happen at exactly 5:14 am on Tuesday, June 21. This marks the longest day, the shortest night and the highest point that the sun will reach in our sky for the year (68 degrees high on the meridian at high noon). Then the days will already be getting shorter for each of the remaining days of summer.
There are several interesting highlights this month, but one stands out as a once-in-a-lifetime event, so do not miss it. That is the extremely rare lineup of not only all five of the brightest planets in the morning sky – which happens about every 20 years – but this time they will all be lined up in order from the sun beginning as early as June 7. Look to the east about an hour before sunrise to catch this rare and spectacular lineup of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and finally Saturn. They will all be within just over 90 degrees of each other and that sequence will last nearly until the end of June, but don’t wait until then to see it.
As if all of that were not amazing enough, there is even more. The remaining two planets, Uranus and Neptune will also be in this great planetary lineup, although you would need binoculars or a telescope to spot them mixed in with the other five brighter planets. Uranus will be about half way between Venus and Mars and Neptune will be about a quarter of the way between Jupiter and Saturn.
On top of all that, the moon will slowly, deliberately and completely predictably work its way along that great gathering of our solar system family in close quarters at the rate of 12 degrees eastward per day. That will begin on June 18 with the moon passing just 4 degrees south of Saturn, which is the first one of the bunch to rise shortly after midnight. Then that parade with the moon as the most rapidly moving member will not end until the very last planet in the line is carefully highlighted, which is Mercury, on June 27
Venus is by far the brightest at -3.9, followed by Jupiter at -2.4, then Mercury at -0.1, and then Mars and Saturn tie for the faintest at 0.5 magnitude. The biggest gap will be between the first one to rise, Saturn, and the second one, Jupiter, which rises about an hour after Saturn with orange Mars close on its heels. Then Venus rises about an hour after Jupiter and Mars with the last one, Mercury, rising about 45 minutes before sunrise which is 5 am
Try to photograph this spectacular and relatively long-lasting event as often as you can. Our entire solar system will be in view at once, with all seven planets and the moon on prominent display from our perfectly placed viewing platform, our familiar home, the third rock from the sun. You will get a much better sense of our whole solar system as you watch this extremely rare event unfold, especially when the moon will rapidly march right through this entire parade. The only way to get an even better and more dramatic view of our whole solar system and its rapid motions is during a total solar eclipse. We will experience one of those over Maine on April 8, 2024.
Unfortunately it was not clear for most of us in New England for the recent long total lunar eclipse of the May super flower moon. I was able to watch it live from several different feeds from the Canary Islands to Arizona, where it was perfectly clear. It was one of the most colorful lunar eclipses I have ever seen, with the deepest and most beautiful shades of orange and crimson, at least from the live images on my computer screen. The whole 3 1/2-hour event unfolded slowly and majestically with no sudden or dramatic and unexpected changes. Total solar eclipses are the exact opposite, packed with drama and surprising events at every turn in rapid fire succession when you are standing at the bottom of the moon’s shadow cone which barely brushes the earth at all, creating a very narrow and sublime path in its wake.
There are a couple of other highlights this month, but nearly nothing in comparison to the great lineup. There will be another fairly bright comet visible this month, but you would still need a telescope or at least a good pair of binoculars to see it since it will only reach about 7th magnitude, or 2 1/2 times fainter than anything visible to the naked eye.
Another highlight this month will be the nearly full moon occulting the star named Dschubba in Scorpius on June 12, visible to observers in the Northeast and parts of Canada, so we are lucky. The moon will pass right in front of this star starting at 10:17 pm and then the star will reappear 52 minutes later.
June 1 The moon passes near the dwarf planet Ceres this evening.
June 2 Mercury is stationary.
June 3 In 1948, the 200-inch Hale telescope at Mount Palomar was dedicated.
June 5 In 1989, the Voyager 2 spacecraft made its closest approach to Neptune. NASA broadcast this live.
June 7 First quarter moon is at 10:48 am
June 11 Venus passes 1.6 degrees south of Uranus this morning.
June 12 The moon will occult Dschubba in Scorpius starting at 10:17 pm Use binoculars to see this event more clearly.
June 14 Full moon is at 7:52 am This is also called the rose or strawberry moon.
June 16 Mercury is at greatest western elongation from the sun today at 23 degrees. … In 1963 Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to orbit the earth. She is still the only woman to orbit the earth on a solo flight.
June 18 The moon passes 4 degrees south of Saturn this morning.
June 19 The moon passes 0.7 degrees south of the asteroid Vesta this morning.
June 20 The moon passes 4 degrees south of Neptune this morning. Last quarter moon is at 11:11 pm
June 21: The summer solstice is at 5:14 am The moon passes 3 degrees south of Jupiter this morning.
June 28 New moon is at 10:52 pm
June 29 George Ellery Hale was born in 1868. He designed and invented the four largest telescopes on Earth starting with the 40-inch refractor at Yerkes in 1898 and culminating with the 200-inch reflector at Mount Palomar.
June 30 In 1908, an asteroid nearly the size of a football field exploded 5 miles above the surface of Earth above Siberia with the force of 20 megatons, or about 1,000 times the energy of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Called the Tunguska event, it leveled 80 million trees over an area of nearly 1,000 square miles, but never left a crater.
Bernie Reim of Wells is co-director of the Astronomical Society of Northern New England.