This time of year- June- with the Summer Solstice around the corner (June 21st), the nights are the shortest of the year and we have to wait till about 11 p.m. for a truly dark sky.

This time of year- June- with the Summer Solstice around the corner (June 21st), the nights are the shortest of the year and we have to wait till about 11 p.m. for a truly dark sky.

Summer Solstice, the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere and the first day of winter Down Under (Do they refer to us as “Up Over?” Someone should complain.). Thanks to the Earth Being tipped on its axis of spin, twice in its orbit about the Sun it reaches the solstice point (in June and December). Northern Hemisphere folks are now tipped the furthest towards the Sun and we bask in the most hours of sunshine- and alas, the least hours of night time star light (note “star light” is not listed alone since sunshine too, is actually star light).

On Thursday night the 20th, the sun will set in northeast Pennsylvania at 8:39 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Astronomical twilight is over at 10:49 p.m. The stars are now out in force, but only for about three and a half hours! At 3:19 a.m. on June 21st, morning astronomical twilight begins, and stars will gradually fade in the dawn, with sunrise at 5:29 a.m.- the longest day of the year.

Note: The times on sunset and sunrise, and the end and beginning of twilight vary depending on how far you are from the equator. As is well known, north of the Arctic Circle at this time of year, the Sun never sets and is the only star you will see even at midnight!

This year, first quarter Moon is also on June 20.  Appearing like a half circle, the Moon sets at 1:29 a.m. Daylight Savings Time (on the 21st). The Moon will be low in the southwest around midnight, so the moonlight will be diminished.

Note, there are three terms for twilight, depending on how much it has progressed.

“Civil twilight” is the brightest form, when there is enough natural sunlight to carry out outdoor activities,. Only the very brightest celestial objects may be seen with the unaided eye, such as Venus and the Moon.

“Nautical twilight” is defined as when the geometrical center of the Sun is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon. Artificial light is generally required for outdoor activities. The brighter stars are visible to unaided eyes and were an aid to sailors when the stars were still use for navigation.

“Astronomical twilight” is defined as when the Sun is between 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon. Other than the effect of light pollution or moonlight, the sky is completely dark at the end of evening astronomical twilight.

Enjoy the short span of true summer night, if you can arrange to be up.

You may enjoy the solitude of the night when the majority keep their appointment with their pillows. Traffic has died down and hopefully most of the artificial lights have been turned off. Fireflies will light the grass, and overhead is the vast canopy of the Universe spread before your eyes.

At midnight in late June, Milky Way Band is well up and the familiar stars of summer evenings.

The bright planet Jupiter will be shining in the southwest, in Libra.

 In the south-southeast, the planet Saturn shines brightly near the familiar “Teapot” asterism of stars which are part of the constellation Sagittarius. The brightest and widest part of the Milky Way - in fact looking right towards the center of our galaxy- is in this region of sky.

Far to the left of Saturn (in the southeast, in Capricornus) is the bright planet Mars. Watch over the next few weeks as the Red Planet grows brighter, on July 31st reaching its closest it has approached Earth in 12 years.

During evening twilight, look for the brilliant planet Venus in the west-northwest. About a half hour after sunset, look to the lower right of Venus for planet Mercury shining in the dusk. A low, clear horizon is required. Binoculars will help, given the sunset glow.

In a span of a few hours you can see all five “classical planets”- the bright naked eye planets known since antiquity! Be sure to catch a sixth planet while you are at it: the Earth under your feet.

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.