A NASA craft has landed further north on Mars than ever before, and has already sent back amazing pictures of the Martian polar region. The mission will try to discover if there really is ice under the surface of Mars, and if the planet could have sustained life in the past.
As we learn more and more about our cosmos, this month we also have a solstice, and Venus and Mercury will switch sides in the sky. So there is much to be excited about.
The summer months, weather permitting, are a great time to learn to identify interesting stars and constellations. Let me show you around some of them, and urge you to get outside and find them for yourself.
There are so many stars in the night sky we can easily get confused. But it's actually not that difficult if you put in some effort to learn which is which. Soon after sunset, you can easily spot the Big Dipper (Saptarshi) in the northern skies. Use the handle of the Big Dipper to point out Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation of Boötes the Herdsman. Once you have found Arcturus, continue on that line to Spica. It's a white star in the zodiac constellation of Virgo the Virgin.
Immediately to the west of Virgo is the constellation of Leo the Lion. Its brightest star, Regulus is at the base of a curve of stars that seem to form a question mark. The planet Saturn is very close to this star and Mars a little to the west of it, and they will appear especially close at the end of June. Immediately west of Leo is Cancer the Crab, though this is such a small and dim constellation that it is easy to miss.
There are some nice stars to the east of Spica but it is blood-red Antares that really catches the eye. This beautiful star is in the heart of Scorpio the Scorpion, another member of the zodiac. And about midway between Antares and Spica is the dim constellation of Libra the Scales.
Another interesting constellation is Hercules, which is located to the east of Boötes. Do you see four faint stars arranged in a lopsided quadrangle? That asterism is known as The Keystone of Hercules. Binoculars will help you see many more fascinating parts of this constellation.
It takes more than one night to identify the myriad of stars which carpet the heavens in midsummer. But learning the above stars and constellations is a noble beginning.
21 June is the Summer Solstice (the longest day), when the Sun will reach its most northerly point at 5:44AM. Mercury will be at inferior conjunction (in front of the Sun) on 7 June, and Venus will reach superior conjunction (passing behind the Sun) on 9 June. After these events Mercury will move from being visible in the evening to the morning, and Venus will migrate from the morning to the evening sky. In this way the planets will be crossing over, though it will be hard to make either of them out for several days as they will be dazzled in the glare of the Sun. Mars is still visible in the western sky after sunset, and sets in the west around midnight. Jupiter comes up in the south-east around midnight, and is high in the south at dawn, in the constellation of Sagittarius. Saturn is in the western sky after sunset and sets around midnight.
Wishing you clear skies and great stargazing!