Free public star parties are held monthly throughout the year in Kanab, courtesy of the local nonprofit Stellar Vista Observatory. Residents and visitors are invited to experience the stars and bring forth the spirit of wonder as to how it all came to be and where humanity might comprehend itself within the immense and majestic reality visible in the night skies of southern Utah.
For the month of June, Wednesday the 21st was selected as the best date to enjoy our starry skies for two reasons. First, on this day, four celestial bodies will be arranged in a beautiful proximity and at a comfortable altitude of 30 degrees, very easy for viewing. Facing West, these are the moon, at 13% illumination (a graceful crescent), and 3 degrees distant, the bright planet Venus, also a crescent as seen through a telescope, now having reversed direction in the western sky and begun its motion downward toward the horizon. See SVO Sky Reports for June 12-18 and June 19-25 to learn why Venus behaves this way. www.stellarvistaobservatory.org/ sky reports.
This proximity between the moon and Venus is not, technically speaking, a “conjunction”, but rather, an “appulse”. Wikipedia defines it this way, “An appulse is related to a conjunction, but the definitions differ in detail. While an appulse occurs when the apparent separation between two bodies is at its minimum, a conjunction occurs at the moment when the two bodies have the same right ascension or ecliptic longitude.”
Rounding out the very attractive grouping for the night of June 21, are Mars, just 4.5 degrees from Venus, and “Praesepe” or “The Manger”, known to modern astronomers as the M44 star cluster, also called the “Beehive Cluster”, just 7 degrees from Venus and the moon. Bright stars in the vicinity include Regulus in Leo and the Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux. A lovely sight to the naked eye and all worthy telescope targets individually as well!
The second reason to choose June 21 for a star party is to commemorate the first day of Summer. This date is the summer solstice, longest day of the year, when Earth, tilted at 23.5 degrees on its axis of rotation, presents its northern hemisphere to the Sun at maximum. How wonderful is the geometry of our planet’s orbit; the way it provides equally maximal and minimal exposure to the Sun during the summer and winter seasons, respectively, for both northern and southern hemispheres. This geometry is illustrated in SVO’s June 19-25 Sky Report. See this edition of the southern Utah News.
The fast pace of modern life can often leave us disconnected from such natural phenomena. Taking time to remember our dependence and inseparability with the natural world adds meaning to our busy lives. So on Wednesday evening, June 21, head over to the Jackson Flat Reservoir boat launch area for a celestial after dinner treat! Sunset occurs at 8:40 PM and the sky will be dark enough to see the moon and planets very nicely by 9:15 PM. Bring your telescope or binoculars if you have them!