A Red Supergiant and the Solstice Moon: The Two Biggest Night Sky Events for June

  • Some of the night sky’s most prominent constellations appear in the summertime.

  • Antares and the Strawberry Moon occur at the same time as the summer solstice.

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In June, the summer solstice occurs in the Northern Hemisphere. This means that nights are shorter, making stargazing easier due to good weather, longer twilights, and the appearance of the summer constellations.

A red supergiant shines in the sky. Some of the most prominent constellations, such as the Summer Triangle (formed by the stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair), are visible at this time of year. Additionally, the Milky Way’s arm is easier to distinguish in dark places.

However, starting on Wednesday, June 19, the focus will shift to Antares, the brightest star in the Scorpius constellation. This red supergiant is located 550 light-years from Earth. It’s 12 times more massive than the Sun and is in its final life stages. As a result, it appears as one of the brightest stars in the night sky at dusk.

How can you locate Antares in the night sky? It’ll be relatively easy to spot Antares despite the presence of the crescent Moon. The star will be at its highest point in the Northern Hemisphere around mid-June.

To locate the red supergiant, look towards the east-southeast in the constellation Scorpius. You can identify it by its distinctive ruby red color and a magnitude of 0.6, which in astronomical terms means that it'll be one of the brightest stars in the sky. Keep in mind that it may appear to flicker intensely due to the Earth’s thick atmosphere.

Coinciding with the full Solstice Moon. On June 22, two days after the summer solstice, the full Solstice Moon will rise over the horizon. This full moon is also known as the Strawberry Moon because, for Native Americans, it marked the strawberry harvest season.

In June, the Sun is at its highest point, and the Moon is at its lowest point from the perspective of the Northern Hemisphere, so the full Solstice Moon tends to appear lower and larger than normal.

When’s the summer solstice? The summer solstice will occur in the Northern Hemisphere on Thursday, June 20. It’ll be the longest day of the year in terms of daylight hours.

During the summer solstice, the Earth’s axis is tilted approximately 23.5 degrees toward the Sun, which results in longer twilight zones (sunrise and sunset). Many ancient civilizations celebrated this moment, and it’s another spectacle to observe in the night sky before the Perseid meteor shower season begins.

Image | Bob Simmons via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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