Let It Shine
It’s official; summer’s here
Week’s end brings a waning gibbous moon rising an hour before midnight, but by the longest day of the year, Wednesday the 21st, a mere crescent rises at 2am.
Saturday, as the sun finally sets in the northwest at 8:35, Saturn and Mars appear less than one-half degree apart above the north-northwest horizon. Better yet, the Beehive Cluster a faint, fuzzy blob to the naked eye but several distinct points of light with just binoculars only sweetens the view.
As Mars is our neighbor, you might expect it to outshine Saturn, which is more than three times farther away. But in the cosmos, it’s never so simple. Saturn is more than 17 times larger than Mars and appears much brighter these nights. But every so often, Mars is its closest to us and its closest to the sun, and then the red planet rages.
These are the last few evenings to spot Mercury, even lower in the north-northwest than Mars and Saturn. Don’t confuse this elusive planet with Castor or Pollux; even though the Gemini twins are higher above the horizon, Mercury’s steady, white light outshines both stars.
The morning of the 21st, the sun rises at 4:42:59. Then, a little more than 14 and a half hours later, it sets, ending the longest day of the year, summer solstice.
If you’re lucky enough to see both sunrise and sunset in the next week, note the sun’s position high in the north as it breaks the horizon at either end of the day. Six months hence, on the shortest day of the year, those positions will be inversed, with the sun rising low in the southeast and setting low in the southwest. This six-month skew is a result of earth’s tilted axis, without which we would never know a change in seasons. Instead, the sun will favor us northern hemisphere dwellers for the next three months, and we may now officially enjoy summer.