June may have the shortest nights of the year, but there’s still plenty to see after sunset – including clouds floating near the edge of space and the first supermoon of the year.
This June will see the first three giant moons of the year, the seasons change, and five planets meet in a celestial gathering. Mark these events on your calendar!
June has the shortest nights of the year across the northern hemisphere, but there’s still plenty to see during the short periods when the sun is below the horizon — including a rare planetary alignment that won’t happen again for decades.
In addition to celestial events throughout the month, the weeks around the June solstice offer a unique opportunity to spot clouds associated with Earth that are not visible during other times of the year.
Luminous nocturnal clouds are the highest clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere and float about 50 miles above the surface, almost touching the edge of space beginning at a height of 62 miles. This is much higher than most other clouds, which develop as close to 10 miles from Earth.
Comet C / 2020 F3 (NEOWISE) and shimmering night clouds over Germany, July 10, 2020 (WikiMedia / JochenK2002)
Glowing luminous clouds are frequently seen in higher latitudes around the summer solstice due to the angle of the sun before sunrise and after sunset. When conditions are right, it can sometimes be seen across the northern part of the contiguous United States, in places like Oregon or Michigan.
Here are the most important astronomy events to mark on your calendar in June:
The first moon in a series of giant stars will rise during the middle of the month, the first full moon of its kind in nearly a year.
A supermoon is a full moon that appears slightly larger and brighter than usual, although the difference between a supermoon and a normal moon can be imperceptible without comparing the side-by-side image. The last supermoon that lit up the night sky rose on June 24, 2021.
The June full moon is also known as the Strawberry Moon, which has led some to refer to the upcoming event as the Super Strawberry Moon.
A full strawberry moon rises behind the ancient marble Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of Athens, on Thursday, June 24, 2021 (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
The supermoon that will appear on the night of Monday, June 13 through the morning of Tuesday, June 14, will be the first of three this year. The second supermoon will glow on Wednesday, July 13, followed by the last supermoon in 2022 on Thursday, August 11.
Many regions in the United States have seen at least a preview of summer weather, but the real arrival of astronomical summer is very close.
The change of seasons will occur on the June solstice, which this year falls on Tuesday, June 21 at 5:13 a.m. EDT. This differs from the meteorological summer, which begins on the first of June every year.
The solstice not only marks the beginning of summer, but also the longest day and shortest night of the year across the northern hemisphere. Meanwhile south of the equator, the June solstice marks the beginning of astronomical winter and is the shortest day of the year.
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After the June solstice passes, the days will slowly get shorter and the nights will gradually get longer across the northern hemisphere until the winter solstice in December.
The unique arrangement of five planets will create an extraordinary display before the end of the month, but only for those who have woken up before the break of dawn.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, in order, will appear in the pre-dawn sky throughout the second half of June. Since this alignment will last for about two weeks, people who want to see the planets in this configuration can check out the AccuWeather app and choose a morning with cloud-free forecast to enjoy the celestial view.
Friday, June 24, may be the best morning to view the alignment as the crescent moon will appear to lie directly in the line between Venus and Mars.
Planets are not on a large scale. Saturn’s rings cannot be seen without a telescope.
The parade of planets is best seen about an hour before sunrise, which for many means getting out before 5 a.m. local time.
No telescope is required to enjoy this alignment as all five planets can be seen with the naked eye, although Mercury is difficult to spot because it is the darkest of all the planets and will appear very low in the sky.
The next time Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn appear in this order will be in August 2040.
More space and astronomy:
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