If you’re a space geek, you’ve been seeing a lot of news over the past week about discoveries from the spacecraft Juno, in a polar orbit of Jupiter that brings it (at its closest) only 2500 miles from the cloud tops. We’re learning more and more about a very dynamic planet with strange magnetic storms, impressive auroras, dynamic polar weather, and beautiful rings – including a photo of Orion from within Jupiter’s ring system, looking back out.
Even though we can’t see all that from HERE, Jupiter is a fascinating planet and it’s been giving us a good show all spring. The end of this coming week offers some Jupiter highlights for the amateur backyard astronomer.
First off, on Saturday, June 3, the Moon will appear to be right next to Jupiter in the early evening, making for a photogenic pairing.
Later that evening, from 10:22 to 12:22am EDT, the moons Ganymede and Io will both be casting their shadows onto Jupiter’s surface, and then just before 1am that same night (into Sunday, June 4), the Great Red Spot crosses the meridian, or centerline, of the planet. I’ve always struggled with seeing the red spot, perhaps the most iconic feature on Jupiter. I never can tell if my timing is off, or I’m looking in the wrong place (forgetting sometimes that my telescope inverts images and I ought to be looking in what appears to be the northern hemisphere…). I may just stay up this week and try to catch it.
In other news, a few months back I devoted a couple articles to trying to catch the Moon’s occultation of Aldebaran. This week, we have the opportunity to see an occultation of a magnitude 3.8 star, Rho Leonis (that is, Greek letter “rho”, in the constellation Leo). It will happen around midnight on Wed the 31st into June 1 (Timetables here, in UTC – Greenwich Mean Time). The interesting part about this particular event is that Rho Leonis is a binary star system, a double star, and so the Moon will block the light from one, and then the other. It will be challenging to resolve, as the two stars are really close to one another, but if you’re quick (less than half a second), you can see a bright-dim-gone transition as one star disappears, and then the other. They’ll wink out behind the darkened limb of the Moon, so at least you won’t be struggling to see it against the glare of a lit Lunar surface. Based on my experience with the Aldebaran event, I plan to watch even if I can’t resolve the binary – it’s extremely cool when you compare the Moon to a “fixed” star and can actually see the Moon moving. It’s remarkably obvious.
Get Out There!