By Adam England
The Northern Arizona night skies of late spring/early summer 2018 are dominated by planets. Some of the easiest objects to spot because of their relative proximity to Earth and the Sun, planets are often only outshone by our Moon. Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will all be visible throughout the month, each characterized by its unique features.
• Venus: This planet likes to hang around the horizons shortly after sunset and/or before sunrise. It’s usually a bright yellowish color due to its dense “Runaway Greenhouse Effect” atmosphere. With a decent telescope or good binoculars, you may see it as a crescent — similar to a quarter Moon.
• Mars: Red in color from its oxidized soils and thin atmosphere, this planet rises later in the evening this month and shines until dawn.
• Jupiter: The “King of the Planets” always puts on a good show, with the four Galilean moons — Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Calisto — dancing around in space. Sketch what you see on consecutive nights and you’ll notice the moon’s bouncing around as they orbit this gas giant. You might even be able to see the cloud bands wrapping around the planet with storms that could swallow Earth whole.
• Saturn: When you first spot this planet, it may look ovular, but as you adjust your focus you’ll see the massive rings extending outward from our solar system’s second largest planet. Despite being mostly dust and ice and averaging only 20 meters thick, they reflect enough light to give us a grand show back on Earth.
• Also: June 21 is also the Summer Solstice, the day when our planet’s axis at the Northern Hemisphere is most inclined toward our Sun (23.44 Deg). Keep your eyes and ears open for fun local events surrounding this celestial happening.
Visit Prescott Astronomy Club at PrescottAstronomyClub.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAstronomyClub.Org.
Adam England is the director-at large and in charge of public relations for the Prescott Astronomy Club.