Unseen by most of us, the morning crescent moon has been heading home to mama sun this week. As it treks eastward, the moon will have a close encounter with the planet Jupiter this Sunday morning June 17. If you’re in the mood for a sunrise, all you need do is get up a little earlier to see the moon and planet just one degree apart low in the northeastern sky 35-40 minutes before the sun comes up.
Venus will also be in the scene but just two degrees (two pinky-widths) above the horizon. To make sure you see it as well as the planet’s phase, take along a pair of binoculars. Venus will appear a near duplicate of the lunar crescent but in miniature.
Jupiter’s returning to the scene with lots of new and interesting weather. Greek amateur astronomer Manos Kardasis has recorded new spots and swirls in the planet’s North Equatorial and North Temperate Belts (NEB and NTB). His photos a prominent white spot surrounded by dark material in the NTB .
I’ve included one of images here taken in the daytime through an infrared filter which helps increase contrast and visibility of cloud features. Views of the planet will improve in the coming weeks as it rises higher at dawn. Sharp-eyed amateur astronomers with 6-inch and larger telescopes might want to have a look for themselves. For more pictures and a Jupiter map, be sure to visit Kardasis’ Astronomy & Technology website.
Sunspots are shaking things up again. A large, naked-eye group numbered 1504 is a complicated mix of magnetic fields that has the potential to pop off strong X-class flares. Earlier flares from June 13 and 14 have sent blasts of high-speed solar wind in Earth’s direction that are expected to hit tomorrow morning June 16 around 5 a.m. CDT. Their arrival may very set off a display of the northern lights. Although the timing isn’t ideal for the U.S. and Canada, there’s always a chance the wind will arrive a little earlier or later. Plan to be on the lookout for auroras late tonight through Saturday night. More updates will appear here as needed.