Driftless Dark Skies

John Heasley

All five visible planets will be there to greet us before sunrise as we journey from spring to summer this month. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (in that order!) will be in a sparkly string across a quarter of the sky from east to south. It’s been around a century since we’ve had such a gathering, and we won’t see one like it again until 2041.

The show starts on June 18. Look south around 4:30 a.m. and hold out your hand. Saturn will be about three finger-widths above the waning gibbous moon. Jupiter will be bright in the southeast with reddish Mars about a fist to its left. Venus will be the brightest planet low in the east (where the sky is beginning to brighten) with dimmer Mercury about a fist below and to its left. On June 19 and 20, watch for the waning gibbous moon moving between Saturn and Jupiter.

Summer Solstice is at 4:14 a.m. on June 21, and the first sunrise of summer is around 5:20 a.m. Look southeast to see Jupiter about two fingers above the last quarter moon. On June 22, you can spot Mars just two fingers to the left of the waning crescent moon. By the next morning, the crescent moon is even thinner and is about four fingers to the left of Mars.

June 24 may be the most spectacular morning with Mercury, Venus, the moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn nicely spaced out across the southeastern sky. Hold out three fingers on June 25 to find the Pleiades star cluster to the left of the waxing crescent moon and Venus the same distance below the Pleiades. If you have binoculars, use them to bring out more stars in the Pleiades and to see Earthshine on the dark side of the moon. Venus and the crescent moon are always an amazing combination and are at their closest for 2022 on June 26 when they rise together around 3:20 a.m. If you have a clear horizon and skies to the east-northeast, you may be able to see a very thin crescent moon rising around 4 a.m. on June 27 with Mercury two fingers to its right.

Not much of a morning person? There won’t be any planets to enjoy in the evening sky until we get closer to autumn. But you can look up with your binoculars the evening of June 3 to see the dark side of the waxing crescent moon gently illuminated by reflected Earthshine with the glittering Beehive star cluster just three fingers to its left. Hope you enjoy all the stars and planets this summer in the dark skies of the Driftless!

John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador, with the IAU as a Dark Skies Ambassador, and with International Dark-Sky Association as an Advocate. For more information about stargazing in southwestern Wisconsin, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there’s something awesome happening in the skies.