Minnesota StarWatch: Spring skies giving way to summer skies

Published 5:20 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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By Deane Morrison

Spring is rapidly giving way to summer. The surest sign is the spring constellation Leo, the lion, tipping down in the southwest, as if the lion is completing a pounce as it heads toward the western horizon.

High in the south blazes Arcturus, the brilliant orb in the constellation Bootes, the herdsman. When it’s this high, it’s easiest to see the shape of the constellation, which looks like a kite. Below Arcturus, Spica dominates the large but dim constellation Virgo, the maiden.

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Far to the south, Scorpius seems to scrape the horizon. The scorpion’s heart is the reddish star Antares. If it’s hard to find, the moon will be close to Antares on the 19th.

In the east, the large Summer Triangle of bright stars has cleared the horizon and is gaining altitude. Its three “corner” stars are Vega, in the constellation Lyra, the lyre; Deneb, the tail of Cygnus, the swan; and, lowest of the three, Altair, in Aquila, the eagle. Vega is almost as bright as Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern hemisphere of sky.

Jupiter slips into the morning sky in the last few days of the month, joining Saturn and Mars. Look for the giant planet close above the northeastern horizon, below the Pleiades star cluster, as dawn starts to break. Mars appears as a tiny reddish dot higher in the east, and Saturn a still higher and slightly brighter dot in the southeast.

The three planets fall in an almost straight diagonal line. The waning moon visits Saturn on the 27th, following a course that will take it “over the heads” of Mars and Jupiter in early July.

The summer solstice arrives on the 20th, when the sun reaches a point over the Tropic of Cancer. The night of the 21st, June’s full moon traces a low arc across the sky.

The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Duluth and Twin Cities campuses. For more information, see:

• Duluth, Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium: www.d.umn.edu/planet

• Twin Cities, Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics: www.astro.umn.edu/outreach/pubnight

• Check out astronomy programs, free telescope events, and planetarium shows at the

• University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum: www.bellmuseum.umn.edu/astronomy

Find U of M astronomers and links to the world of astronomy at: http://www.astro.umn.edu