Jupiter mysteries and a Beehive with the Moon

If you think you know Jupiter, think again!  The first science results are in from NASA’s Juno spacecraft, currently in orbit around our solar system’s largest planet.  Incredible new cloud features, magnificent aurorae with a connection to Io, and a stronger than expected magnetic field with anomalies are just the start of these spectacular new views.  Here is your guide to the sky for May 29 to June 4, 2017 – a week with a bounty of celestial sights…

Planets in the Sky – By Jove!

Jupiter is visible in the south right after sunset.  As you check it out, this week think about the amazing results that have come in from NASA!  On Saturday it will be two degrees south of the Moon.  The Juno spacecraft has delivered unparalleled views of Jupiter’s poles, revealing complex cloud festoons with white cyclones the size of the Earth.   Instruments on board have discovered the planets magnetic field is twice as strong as expected in spots but not uniform suggesting the dynamo generating the field may not be deep in the core as it is here on Earth.  Spectacular close-ups of aurora over both poles of Jupiter taken with JunoCam and Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper have given us close up views along with the footprint of the powerful Io flux tube extending from the innermost Galilean moon.  Images also revealed details of Jupiter’s thin ring system as well.Juno’s highly elliptical orbit takes it around Jupiter once every 53 days, from a perijove at 4,000 km (2,500 miles) to an eight million km (five million mile) apojove out past the orbit of the Galilean satellite Callisto.   The spacecraft is scheduled to complete eight more planned orbits so we have just over a year remaining to this exciting mission to unravel Jupiter’s mysteries.

Jupiter polar region – Image courtesy of NASA

Mercury rises in eastern sky just prior to sunrise this week around 4:05 am and is challenging to find in twilight. Venus rises in the east at 3:00 am and is brilliant in the morning sky.   It reaches greatest elongation on Saturday. Mars is low in the west at sunset while Saturn in Ophiuchus rises in the eastern sky around 9:15 pm.

Sun – Earth – Moon

Sunrise this week is 4:52 am and sunset at 8:18 pm while First Quarter Moon takes place on Thursday at 8:42 am.  Monday night look for the young crescent Moon at sunset. As soon as it gets dark, try finding the “Beehive Cluster” or M44 which is about three degrees north.  This open cluster is a loose scattering of stars and is about the angular size of the full Moon.

Constellations – Lyra, beginning of the Summer Triangle

Last week we explored some of the zodiacal constellations, this week try finding Lyra the Harp.  Look in the eastern sky for the bright star Vega around 9:00pm.  Once you have found it look for a small parallelogram of stars just below it.  This marks Lyra a famous harp of Orpheus who’s music was so incredible that it could enchant inanimate objects like trees or rocks.  The constellation has also been viewed as an eagle carrying the harp, and even as a vulture.   Vega marks one of the stars in the summer triangle, so we know warmer weather is on its way.

June 1st at 9pm – Starchart courtesey of Heavens-Above.com


Whether you check out Jupiter, look for Lyra, or try your hand at finding the Beehive Cluster, get out there and look up.   Happy stargazing and keep your eye on the sky!

Shawn Laatsch

About Shawn Laatsch

Shawn Laatsch is the director of the Emera Astronomy Center and Jordan Planetarium at the University of Maine. He started his astronomy education career in 1984 and has directed planetariums in university and science center facilities, taught undergraduate astronomy courses, and given numerous lectures around the globe. He serves as President (2017 & 2018) of the International Planetarium Society, Inc. the world’s largest organization of planetarium professionals. Shawn has a passion for sharing astronomy and stargazing with people of all ages.