In an earlier post, I drew your attention to the Moon‘s close approach to Jupiter at dusk on 11 June, essentially the planet’s swan song of this apparition. Six nights later, the Moon’s orbital motion brings it between two prime-time planets: Mars and Saturn.
The Red Planet was closest to Earth at the end of May (see this story for the details), so it is still at its best during 2016, despite the very low altitude as seen from the UK. Currently highest in the sky due south at dusk, ochre-colour Mars is shining at magnitude -1.8 — brighter than any star.
Late into the night of Friday, 17 June, when the gibbous lunar disc is close to Mars, the planet has an angular diameter slightly less than 18 arcseconds. This means that the Red Planet requires a telescope magnifying 100x to enlarge it to the same size as the Moon appears to the unaided eye. You can use our interactive Mars Mapper to help identify Martian surface features. Note that the planet’s prominent v-shaped Syrtis Major is well placed mid-month for observers in the British Isles.
Ringed planet Saturn was at opposition on 3 June, so it is still at its closest to Earth for the year. Like Mars, the planet’s low altitude as seen from the UK will mean that poor seeing will make observations challenging, but on slightly misty nights when a high pressure weather system sits overhead, the jewel of the planets is still an arresting sight. At 18 arcseconds in diameter, Saturn’s disc is currently fractionally larger than Mars, while the northern aspect of its 42-arcsecond-wide ring system is prominently displayed.
Inside the magazine
Find out all you need to know about what is currently happening in the night sky and how to observe it in the June 2016 edition of Astronomy Now.
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