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Eye on the Sky: Cavalcade of the Gods

Hello once again fellow astrophiles! Well, June is here, and with it come those warm summer nights when you can comfortably stargaze until the sun comes up. So grab yourself a thermos of hot coffee and head outside under the black bowl of night!

On June 14, a delicious full Strawberry Moon will hang in the sky above the verdant West Virginia countryside. Named after the equally delicious wild strawberries that bear fruit this time of year, it is also the second “supermoon” of the year. A supermoon is a full Moon that appears larger than usual because it is close to perigee, which is the point in the Moon’s orbit at which it is closest to Earth.

The summer solstice, when the Sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky, occurs on June 21, marking the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere. But you’ll have to get up bright and early if you have a strange desire to go outside and yell at the sky at the precise moment of the solstice – it occurs at the ungodly hour of 5:13 am. Not that I’ve ever had an urge to do that. No way! Incidentally, although June 21 does indeed mark the longest day of the year, it is not the day of latest sunset like many people think. That occurs in the Lewisburg area on June 28, at 8:49:26 pm.

To cap off the month, there will be a rare planetary alignment in the early morning sky of June 24. Known as a “planetary parade” in astronomical circles, this spectacular event features a cavalcade of planets all lined up in a row. Indeed, all seven planets will adorn the morning sky like a string of festival lights, although Uranus and Neptune will require the use of binoculars, or possibly even a telescope, to penetrate the icy depths of the solar system and discern their ghostly forms. As a bonus, the last quarter Moon has been invited to this parade, riding atop her very own float between Venus and Mars. If you do go looking for the outer planets, be sure to note that Uranus will be between Venus and the Moon, while ultra-distant Neptune will lie between Jupiter and Saturn.

Bear in mind that you don’t have to wait to see this grand spectacle – the planetary alignment is happening right now, even as you read. It’s just that the entire arrangement I spoke of above won’t be in place until June 24. Be sure not to miss the whole show, however. Such a grand alignment as this one, with all seven planets in a row, won’t happen again until May 19, 2161, and by that time we’ll have all met the gods personally!

Well folks, that about wraps it up for this month. Until next time, remember – always keep an Eye on the Sky!

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