As June’s twilight deepens into the starry dark of night, between 9 and 9:30 p.m., step out and enjoy the cascade of constellations marking this time of year.

As June’s twilight deepens into the starry dark of night, between 9 and 9:30 p.m., step out and enjoy the cascade of constellations marking this time of year.

This is late spring, when the orange beams from Arcturus shine down from the high south; the blue-white beacon of Vega light announce its transcendency in the east; the Big Dipper begins its plunge, bowl-first, to the left of the North Star; shining regulus, the heart of Leo the Lion, leads the cosmic feline’s pounce towards the west, and in 2017, the glow of planet Jupiter takes dominance between us and the unfathomably distant stars.

“Spring constellations,” those that are center stage on spring evenings, include Bootes the Herdsman with its brilliant star Arcturus; Virgo the Virgin marked by its brightest gem, Spica and visited by Jupiter currently placed to the upper right; Corona Borealis the Northern Crown; Leo the Lion; a very long and dim constellation, Hydra the Water Snake; Corvus the Crow and other imaginative connections of star groupings.

Winter’s glorious stars are almost completely hidden by the Sun’s glare as our Earth continues its annual orbit. yet there are still vestiges of winter’s stellar canopy, even in mid-June, if you look right after dark settles in. Around 9 to 9:30 p.m., if you have a low view of the northwest, you can still see the bright yellow star Capella. That is, if you live north of about +30 degrees latitude.

Capella is not all that far from the North Celestial Pole, the point join the sky around which the whole sky seems to rotate. The North Star lies very close to that point (about one degree), giving the star the impression that it never moves (but it does make a small circle around that point). All of the stars between the North Celestial Pole and the north horizon, never set as seen from any given latitude. We call them “circumpolar” stars. You can tell your latitude by measuring, in degrees, from the true northern horizon to the North Celestial Pole.

Capella is nearly 44 degrees from the North Celestial Pole. If you live further north than +44 degrees latitude, Capella never sets at all!

Other bright stars we associate with winter evenings still visible in the early June night, are Procyon (look low, due west) and the Pollux and Castor pair, up higher and to the right.

The Big Dipper completely misses the horizon starting at +41 degrees latitude. Around 9 p.m., in the first half of June, the handle of the Big Dipper is at its highest, as if the end star, Alkaid, was hooked to a nail on the sky and the Dipper was swinging to the left.

We can tell summer is almost here. Just look to the east as darkness falls in June. Of the bright stars, Vega leads the way, about half way up in the east. To the lower left is Deneb, which is the top star of the “Northern Cross”- part of Cygnus the Swan. The cross appears oriented on its side. To the lower right is the bright star Altair, just rising. In the south-southeast, the bright red star Antares is rising, part of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion.

The very bright planet Saturn may be seen low in the southeast as well, to the left of Antares.
Go out at about 2 a.m. in June and see the “summer stars” in all their glory- or you can wait till mid-summer!

The wee hours of morning also bring a preview of the autumn constellations, rising in the east.
Between 4 and 5 a.m., look due east for the brilliant planet Venus.

SOLAR ECLIPSE: As a reminder, I am looking for your reports of past solar eclipses you have observed. Have you ever witnessed a total solar eclipse? When was it? What was it like? Pictures are welcome too. These reports will be published in advance of the much anticipated total solar eclipse crossing the United States on August 21, 2017. Watch for more details in “Looking Up.” Send your reports to the email listed below.

Last quarter Moon is on June 17.
Keep looking up!

Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at news@neagle.com. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.