Sky Lights ~ Gemini

May 21 - June 21, 2011

Planets ... those seen with the unaided eye

Saturn is our only evening planet. At magnitude 0.8 it can be seen overhead at nightfall. The Lord of the Rings moves westward all night long until it sets, around 3:30am in the beginning of Gemini and at 2:00am by its end. The planet's yellowish glow is eye-catching above (west of) bluish Spica. As the sky darkens, look overhead for the large triangle formed by Saturn, Spica and golden Arcturus. Use the Big Dipper to locate Saturn (see Arcturus below for details). 6/6-11 use the waxing Moon and the 5min.-video by Star Gazer, Let the Moon Lead the Way, to guide you to Regulus of Leo the Lion and to Porrima, Saturn and Spica in the constellation of Virgo the Virgin. 6/9 the waxing Gibbous Moon can be seen near Saturn and 6/10 near Spica. 6/9 Map ~ 6/10 Map Saturn, Spica and the Moon form a straight line the following evening. 6/11 Map/Text Saturn's rings are opening, revealing more and more of their northern face. The planet's ring tilt is 7 in June and widens to 15 by December. Generate images of Saturn's ring tilt as seen from Earth with the Solar System Simulator. With a 6- or 8-inch telescope you just may be able to see Saturn's 5 brightest moons.

Jupiter at magnitude -2.2 rises higher each morning as it pulls away from Mars, Venus and Mercury. 5/21 5:20am Map ~ 5/26 5:20am Map ~ 5/31 5:20am Map The gaseous giant planet rises in a dark sky at 4:00am in the beginning of Gemini and at 2:45am by its end. Jupiter dazzles in the dark sky for night owls and early birds. The waning Crescent Moon lies west (above) Jupiter 5/28 and nestles near the planet 5/29. 5/28 Dawn Map/Text ~ 5/29 5:15am Map

Mars is easier to see during Gemini, though you may still need binoculars to spot the planet in a twilit sky. Each morning our Red Planet, at magnitude 1.4, can be viewed in a dark sky a little higher above the eastern horizon. Mars rises about 4:45am in the beginning of Gemini and at 4:00am by its end. 5/22-23 use Jupiter to find the pairing of Mars and Venus in dawn's early light. 5/22 Dawn Map/Text ~ 5/23 5:15am Map As Gemini unfolds the distance between ascending Mars and descending Venus increases. 5/30 the waning Crescent Moon positions itself west of (above) Mars. 5/30 5:15am Map Watch the mini-dipper-shaped Pleiades rise to line-up with Mars during Gemini. By mid-June Mars lies south (right) of the Pleiades (M45). Use this 5/31 5:20am Map to see the star cluster's dipper-shape positioned to the right of the Moon and Mercury, preceding its alignment with Mars.

Venus at magnitude -3.8 is breathtaking, though low on the eastern horizon. The planet rises around 4:45am during Gemini. 5/22-23 use Jupiter to find the pairing of Venus and Mars in dawn's early light. Venus is 100x brighter than Mars. 5/22 Dawn Map/Text ~ 5/23 5:15am Map As Gemini unfolds the distance between descending Venus and ascending Mars increases. 5/31 the last vestige of the waning Crescent Moon lies to the left of Venus on the horizon. 5/31 Dawn Map/Text Early June Venus lies south (right) of the mini-dipper-shaped Pleiades, the shoulder of Taurus the Bull. Use this 5/31 5:20am Map to see the star cluster's dipper-shape positioned to the right of the Moon and Mercury preceding its line-up with Venus. By the end of Gemini Venus lies to the north (left) of Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the Bull.

Mercury, hidden in the Sun's glaring light, disappears from view during Gemini. The elusive and innermost planet passes behind the Sun in superior conjunction 6/12 at 5:00pm PDT (00:00 UT 6/13).


Stellar Stars

Capella is the very bright star in the northwest setting around 11:45am in the beginning of Gemini and at 10:15am by its end. It is the brightest star seen the most often. Spring Stars

Arcturus is the bright golden star high in the east at sunset. Use the handle of the Big Dipper to arc down to Arcturus from there spike down to blue-white Spica in the south. Helpful Image In 2011 yellowish Saturn lies above (west of) bluish Spica; both are located south of Arcturus. Look for the large triangle formed by these 3 colorful celestial bodies. You can still use this early April Map to see how the triangle relates to blue-white Regulus of Leo the Lion. The westward movement of Arcturus and the Big Dipper can be observed until sunrise. Big Dipper Navigation Notice the seasonal position of the Big Dipper's bowl.

Scorpius the cosmic scorpion, a sprawling j-shaped constellation, is seen in the southeast at sunset. It's a summer constellation that's on the rise! Track Bunny's footprints in Scorpius throughout the year.

The Summer Triangle is also on the rise! Begin Looking for this stellar right triangle high in the northeast at sunset. Vega is the brightest star and western point; Deneb the dimmest star and eastern point, Altair is the southern point.

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