The heavens are busy these days! Today (June 20) is the summer solstice, and the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s also the longest day of the year.
In 2016, a full Moon, also commonly known as Strawberry Moon, will coincide with the June Solstice. The two events haven’t occurred on the same day since 1967 and will not coincide again until 2062.
The actual event happens today at 6:34 PM Eastern Daylight Time when when the Earth’s axial tilt is most inclined towards the sun, leaning 23° 26’. from the perpendicular in the direction of the sun.
The word solstice derives from Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). The summer solstice has significant meaning in many cultures and is celebrated world-wide.
At nine o’clock on June evenings (ten o’clock daylight savings time), face northwestward to see Leo the Lion plunging downward toward the horizon. Leo’s bright alpha star, Regulus, is due west. The Great Bear, Ursa Major, most recognizable by the star group within its boundaries called the Big Dipper, is about halfway up the northwestern sky.
The northeastern part of the sky is dominated by the three bright stars of the Summer Triangle: Vega, the alpha star in Lyra (the Lyre), is highest; Deneb, the alpha star in Cygnus (the Swan) is toward the northeast; and Altair, the alpha star in Aquila, the Eagle, is somewhat lower and toward the east. Below and to the left of Altair is the distinctive, albeit tiny and dim, constellation Delphinus, which really does look like a tiny dolphin leaping the waves.
Low toward the north is the W of Cassiopeia, the Queen. Higher up is the Little Dipper (the constellation Ursa Minor, the Little Bear), standing vertically on its handle. The tip of the handle is Polaris, the North Star.
Face southeast to see Antares, the bright red star marking the heart of Scorpius, low in the sky. High in the southeast, near Arcturus (the orange alpha star in Bootes, the Herdsman), is the semicircle of stars called Corona Borealis, or the Northern Crown. Below the Crown to the east is the H-shape of Hercules.
Although Arcturus has just crossed the meridian into the southwestern quadrant of the sky, the rest of its constellation, Bootes, stands vertically overhead. Spica, the bright alpha star in the constellation Virgo, dominates the lower southwestern sky.
Click on the Skyguide image to the right to get a good overview to all the activity in the night sky this month.