For those who prefer daylight to darkness, welcome to June. Sauk Prairie enjoys more than 15 hours of daylight every day, all month long. The earliest sunrise is on June 15 and the latest sunset on June 26 and 27, with the summer solstice occurring at 5:07 a.m. June 21. Daylight on the summer solstice is about six-and-a-half hours longer than on the winter solstice.
The summer solstice is also noctilucent cloud season, when electric-blue, night-shining clouds high in the atmosphere catch the sun’s rays even after the sun has set for those of us below on Earth’s surface. These rare clouds are most often seen in northern latitudes for about a month on either side of the summer solstice.
There are three kinds of twilight that occur after sunset in order from brightest to darkest: civil, nautical, and astronomical. Astronomical twilight is defined as the time span when the sun is 18 degrees or more below the horizon. In places such as Vancouver, Canada, no astronomical twilight occurs for part of June. In Sauk Prairie, astronomical twilight can start as late as 11:03 p.m. in June and end as early as 2:58 a.m. But even during nautical and civil twilight there are still plenty of stars to see.
One of the more distinctive stargazing targets of summer is the Summer Triangle, a shape made up of three bright stars from different constellations. This asterism is rising in the east-northeast on June evenings. Look straight overhead to zenith to find the Big Dipper. Trace the shape of the curving handle to “arc to Arcturus,” a bright star in Bootes, and then “speed on down to Spica,” the brightest star in Virgo.
Make sure not to confuse Jupiter with Spica this month as the two both lie in the southern part of the sky. On June 21 the moon is close to Spica, and on June 23 the moon comes within 5 degrees of Jupiter.
An even brighter point of light in the sky this month is Venus in the west. Venus crosses from Gemini into Cancer over the course of the month. A crescent moon is close to Venus on both the June 15 and 16; and on June 19, Venus joins the stars of the Beehive Cluster for an impressive view through binoculars or a telescope.
Toward the end of the month there is another bright object near the horizon, chasing Venus up into the sky after sunset. This fleet-footed planet is Mercury. Mercury is alongside a young moon on June 14. Mercury zips across Gemini and into Cancer by June 27, just before Venus leaves Cancer for Leo. Mercury will follow in Venus’s footsteps, mingling with the stars of the Beehive Cluster in early July.
With all this activity in the west-northwest after sunset, it’s possible to miss the emergence of Saturn in the southeast. But it will be hard to ignore it on June 27 when the full moon and the ringed planet are just a degree apart. This is also the date when Saturn is at opposition. Saturn rises in the thick heart of the Milky Way, a short distance from the galactic center. Over the summer Saturn can be seen with optical aid and then scan nearby to see deep-sky wonders such as the Trifid Nebula, Lagoon Nebula, plus other star clouds and star clusters.