The skies put on their summer best

Published June 3, 2006

With the coming of dusk, look for Mercury just above the west-northwest horizon. The dim planet will be most obvious around the middle of June. Mercury is to the lower right of the Saturn-Mars combination.

Jupiter shines brightly in the south-southeast as the sky darkens. Look for our largest planet above the moon at dusk on Thursday. Jupiter is a impressive sight: Through a small telescope, the cloud bands on its surface are evident, and its four largest moons can be seen orbiting around it.

Most impressive this month is the Saturn-Mars combination, with these two planets drawing closer together and then moving apart. At the start of the month, Saturn is to the upper left of Mars in the west after dusk. Mars will move closer to Saturn until, on June 17, they become closest. They will appear so close in the early evening that you may see both in the same field of view with a telescope or binoculars. After June 17, Saturn will move to the lower right of Mars. Notice the rather dim Mercury to the lower right of Saturn; Mars, Saturn and Mercury are in a straight diagonal line).

Venus is low in the east-northeast before dawn. The brilliant planet is below the crescent moon on June 22 and to the right of it on June 23.

Summer begins at 8:26 a.m. on June 21, when the sun reaches its northernmost point. At this time we have the greatest number of daylight hours within 24 hours. In the Southern Hemisphere, winter begins, and folks there have the fewest hours of sunlight in their day.

At the planetariums

Science Center of Pinellas County, 7701 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg: Learn how to build a telescope at the ongoing classes from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays in the optical laboratory in the annex building (behind the main building). The St. Petersburg Astronomy Club meets at the Science Center on the fourth Friday of every month at 8 p.m. Mike Davis will speak on buying property for remote astronomical observing. Visit the club's Web site at www.tampabayastronomy.com. For more information, call (727) 384-0027 or visit www.sciencecenterofpinellas.com.

St. Petersburg College, GIBBS CAMPUS, 69th Street at Fifth Avenue N, St. Petersburg: The college planetarium will offer free planetarium shows on Friday nights at 7 and 8:15 p.m. (There will be no show on June 23.) The current show is "The Stars of Summer." Children 5 and older welcome. No admittance after the show begins. When the skies are clear, telescopes will be set up after the second show. Call (727) 341-4320 for more details.

Gulfport: Telescopes will be set up at dusk on June 17 on the corner of Beach Boulevard and 31st Avenue S for astronomical viewing, but only if skies are clear.

Bishop Planetarium, 210 10th St. W, Bradenton: The planetarium shows are "The Search for Life: Are We Alone?," "Passport to the Universe" and "Secrets of the Cardboard Rocket" for the younger set. Visit Snooty the manatee in the aquarium while you're there. For details, call (941) 746-4131 or visit www.southfloridamuseum.org.

Museum of Science and Industry, 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa: The planetarium is showing "More Than Meets the Eye" and "MOSI's Tonight show," about the current night sky. The IMAX Dome Theater continues with Dolphins, Human Body, Greece: Secrets of the Past and Mystery of the Nile.

The astronomy club meets from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on Friday in the planetarium to discuss the planets of our solar system. There will be free telescope viewing at dusk tonight, weather permitting. Look for them outside the Butterfly Garden.

Call (813) 987-6100 or visit www.mosi.org for more events.

Sky calendar

TODAY: First-quarter moon. SkyWatch at MOSI from sundown to 10 p.m. The moon is at its greatest distance (apogee) at 251,084 miles.

WEDNESDAY: Moon near the star Spica before dawn. Jupiter to the left of the moon after sunset.

THURSDAY: Jupiter to the upper right of the moon after sunset in the south.

FRIDAY: Astronomy club meets at MOSI at 7:30 p.m.

JUNE 11: Full moon.

JUNE 16: Moon is closest to us (perigee) at 229,236 miles. Pluto is at opposition - opposite the direction of the sun from Earth.

JUNE 17: Saturn very near Mars to the west-northwest at dusk. Saturn is the brighter of the two. SideWalk astronomical observing in Gulfport at dusk.

JUNE 18: Last-quarter moon.

JUNE 21: Summer solstice at 8:26 a.m. Summer officially begins.

JUNE 22: Brilliant Venus below a thin crescent moon before sunrise.

JUNE 23: Venus to the right of the crescent moon before dawn.

JUNE 25: New moon. Mars at its greatest distance from the sun at 155-million miles.

JUNE 28: Mars, Saturn and Mercury form a diagonal line below a thin crescent moon at dusk.

Daryl L. Schrader is an astronomy and mathematics professor at St. Petersburg College and teaches astronomy at the University of South Florida.