Rich pickings in June for night-sky observers

The aurora australis, shown here at The Briars, and the aurora borealis are caused by charged subatomic particles from the sun smashing into Earth’s atmosphere. These are emitted all the time, but there are more during times of greater solar activity. With the sun approaching the peak of its 11-year sunspot cycle, periods of intense aurora are likely over the next year or so. Photo: MPAS member Ben Claringbold

June is a wonderful time for night-sky observers in the southern hemisphere. The rich star fields of the Milky Way galaxy stretch right across the sky from the south-west to the north-east. You cannot fail to spot the constellation Scorpius, which has one of the most recognisable patterns in the night sky. It is home to many excellent targets for an amateur telescope. Scorpius’s brightest star is the orange-red Antares, which is a supergiant with a diameter about 800 times that of our own star, the sun.

While there may be more impressive sights in the southern part of the June sky, there is also much to see when looking north, such as the globular clusters M13 and M92 in the constellations Hercules. There are also plenty of interesting clusters to look at in Ophiuchus. Besides the two globular clusters M10 and M12, and the open cluster NGC 6633, be sure to look out for the open cluster IC 4665. It is composed of a group of 30 stars and is a lovely sight through binoculars.

Looking south, you will be met with a rich variety of objects visible with just the naked eye, or with binoculars or a small telescope. M22 in the constellation Sagittarius is an impressive globular cluster, while the emission nebula M8, also called the Lagoon Nebula, is a fine target for binoculars. Meanwhile, Omega Centauri, arguably the finest globular cluster in the night sky, sits at the heart of Centaurus, the Centaur.

Earth is at solstice on June 21, which marks the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere, when we receive the least energy from the sun. On the day of the winter solstice, we are tilted as far away from the sun as possible, which means the sun’s path across the sky is as low as it can be.

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the May 2024 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.