Mythology ties trio of constellations together

Posted June 01, 2010, at 8:28 p.m.
Evening sky, Maine skies, June 2010
Evening sky, Maine skies, June 2010

Low in the southwest, where Saturn and Mars reside this month, are three faint constellations, Corvus the Crow, Hydra the Water Snake and Crater the Cup, whose only claim to celestial fame is the mythology that binds them together. Corvus was the cupbearer to Apollo, the sun god, and one day, when sent for water by the thirsty god, he was distracted by a tree with ripe figs. Realizing that Apollo would be furious, the wily crow snatched up a water snake in his beak and flew back to explain that it had prevented him from filling the cup and returning much sooner. The angry god didn’t buy the story and all three were banished to the sky where Hydra spends eternity preventing Corvus from getting a drink from the cup of water.

Focus on the planets

Mercury rises in the east about an hour before sunrise as June opens. On June 10 look for Mercury just below and slightly to the left of the thin crescent moon.

Venus is in the west at sunset and forms a more or less straight line with Castor and Pollux of Gemini, who are located to the right of the planet.

Mars is high in the west as darkness falls and spends the month in close proximity to Regulus. On June 6, reddish Mars forms a color contrast with bluish-white Regulus as the pair is separated by less than a degree.

Jupiter sparkles in the east an hour before sunrise and is the brightest point of light in the morning sky. Jupiter’s four moons will be easy to spot by telescope as they “dance” about the planet.

Saturn is high in the southwest at sunset. The ring system is nearly edge-on, it will not be this narrow again until 2024, but their lack gives an opportunity to observe the inner moons that are often hidden. This is a good chance to check out the solar system’s second largest moon, Titan.

Uranus rises in the east at the same time as Jupiter and is visible as a blue-green disk in the same binocular field of view as the giant planet.

Neptune is visible as a blue-gray disk about one-third of the way up on the eastern horizon in very nearly the same location that Johann Galle spotted it 164 years ago.

June events

3 The moon is at apogee or farthest distance from Earth.

4 Moon in last quarter, 6:13 p.m.

8 Uranus is less than one-half degree above and slightly to the left of Jupiter. This is the closest approach of two planets for the year.

11 Venus, Pollux and Castor form a nearly straight line in the west an hour after sunset.

12 New moon, 7:14 a.m.

15 The moon is at perigee or nearest approach to Earth.

16 Mars, Regulus and the moon form a lopsided triangle in the west during the early evening hours.

18 Saturn looks like a golden star above the moon in the west as darkness falls.

19 Moon in first quarter, 12:29 a.m.

21 Summer solstice, 7:29 a.m. The sun has reached its most northern point above the celestial equator, making this the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. The sun enters the astrological sign of Cancer on the first day of summer but, astronomically, is just leaving Taurus and entering Gemini.

23 St. John’s Eve, when bonfires used to be lit the length of England. This should be the peak night for the Bootid meteor shower, but a nearly full moon will wash out this sometimes major shower.

26 Full moon, 7:30 a.m. The full moon of June is known as the Strawberry Moon, Rose Moon or Green Corn Moon.

30 Sunrise, 4:52 a.m.; sunset, 8:25 p.m.

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