Comet just one of June’s heavenly highlights

Gripped in the claw of the constellation Scorpius sits the reflection nebula DG 129, a cloud of gas and dust that reflects light from nearby bright stars. This infrared view of the nebula was captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. Photo courtesy NASA

The first event this month is a penumbral lunar eclipse on June 6 in the early morning near dawn. During this eclipse, the moon becomes immersed in the penumbral cone of the Earth without touching Earth’s shadow (umbra). The moon will be closest to the centre of the shadow at 5.24am. However, a penumbral lunar eclipse can be a bit hard to see because the shadowed part is only a little bit fainter than the rest of the moon.  

There is no shortage of interesting objects to view from southern latitudes this month. A good place to start is the constellation Scorpius, which contains the stunning open clusters M6 and M7. They sit not far from the Scorpion’s tail, and a pair of binoculars shows them very clearly. Scorpius’s brightest star is the orange-red Antares, a supergiant star with a diameter about 800 times that of our own star, the sun.

Looking north, the globular cluster M13 in Hercules is a spectacular sight through a large-aperture telescope, which will show it as a ball of thousands of stars. There are also plenty of interesting clusters to look at in Ophiuchus. Looking south you will be met with a rich variety of objects visible to just the naked eye, or through binoculars or a small telescope. M22 in the constellation Sagittarius is an impressive magnitude 5.1 globular cluster, while the emission nebula M8, also known as the Lagoon Nebula, can be seen through binoculars as a glowing patch.

Also in our skies is comet C/2019 U6 Lemmon, which has the potential to become easily visible through binoculars during June. On June 1 you will find it in Canis Major, then the comet moves into Hydra on June 15. On June 23 it will be very close to Alphard in Hydra. The comet may then appear at its brightest, easily visible through binoculars and possibly the naked eye from a dark site.

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the June 2020 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.