Shrinking Summer Nights
The full moon is at its lowest, while the sun nears its peak
Week’s end finds the waxing gibbous moon high in the south at sunset, around 8:30. Thursday evening it shines to the west of golden Saturn and the blue-white star Spica, but the next night it has snuggled within 10 degrees of both, forming a loose triangle. Saturn and Spica are currently about a dozen degrees apart, but keep an eye on them over the coming months as the ringed planet edges eastward for an autumnal conjunction.
By Monday the near-full moon appears low in the east at sunset, with fiery-red Antares trailing 10 degrees behind. Tuesday the moon follows Antares by less than five degrees.
Wednesday, marks full moon, known as the Strawberry Moon, the Rose Moon and the Honey Moon. Traveling along the low-arching ecliptic of summer nights, June’s full moon is at its farthest south of the year. So low against the horizon, its light enters our atmosphere at a diffused/shallow angle, cutting through more cloud cover and the like before reaching our eyes, in the process taking on a rosy hue. Six months from now, the near-winter sun will follow in daylight the same low southerly arch as the moon does now in darkness.
But for the next few weeks, the sun is at its highest as it nears summer solstice June 21. Tuesday, in fact, marks the sun’s earliest sunrise at 5:42, while the latest sunset comes two weeks after that. So while the 21st is the longest aggregate day of the year, earth’s egg-shaped orbit around the sun skews the time between earliest sunrise and latest sunset.
If you’re up to greet the earliest dawn, look for Jupiter, high in the east June 15 at 5am. Much closer to the northeast horizon is Venus, which although brighter is almost lost in the glare. Between the two and so dim as to warrant binoculars, is Mars.