In this guide to the June sky, I am focusing on the north and east views of mid-northern latitudes.
Looking east, the Summer Triangle is up by 10 or 11 p.m. This *asterism is made up of three bright stars from three different constellations: Vega in Lyra the Harp; Deneb in Cygnus the Swan; and Altair in Aquila the Eagle. As summer goes on, the triangle will appear higher and higher in the sky each night, “moving” westward. The Summer Triangle can be picked out when the brightest stars are appearing after sunset, so it can be an easy target for young astronomers just starting to learn their summer stars. Left: a Stellarium map of these three constellations with figures drawn. Below: a Stellarium map of these constellations with the triangle shape drawn in.
Looking north, the Big Dipper swings down to the northeast. You can visualize it in two different ways: hanging down by its handle, or that its handle is standing up like a growing plant. (I prefer the plant picture. It is summer, after all, and I have little herblings growing! I’m waiting for my pumpkin patch to sprout now too. Follow the **Drinking Gourd, my dear Cucurbita plantlings! Anyway, moving on….)
Mars is still in Leo, below the feet, and as summer goes on it will appear to move eastward across the stars to hang out with Saturn by the star Spica in Virgo.
Summer is a good time to get away from city lights and have a look at the Milky Way, the band of our galaxy that we can see from Earth. In the summer nights it stretches high overhead almost north to south, and it crosses through the Summer Triangle. In the southern view of the sky it will pass between Scorpius and Sagittarius, but I’ll feature those in Part 2 of June Stargazing later on.
Below is one of my nice, messy Starhopper’s Guides to the Night Sky, and since it has a lot on it, I’ve also placed below it a clean map with constellation lines and labels. For other Starhopper’s Guides to the Night Sky-style maps, see my earlier posts Orion is Leaving Us!, Spring Constellations: Corvus, Crater, Hydra, and Cancer, and Can You Handle Hercules? (Click on the image to see a larger version of it.)
* An asterism is a pattern of stars that may be part of an official constellation or made up of stars from several constellations. A constellation (by today’s astronomical consideration) is an internationally defined area of the night sky.
** One legend of the Big Dipper is that it was called The Drinking Gourd and was used by The Underground Railroad as a guide to help slaves escape northward. There is a folk song called “Follow the Drinking Gourd” which supposedly contained a map to be followed. However, research into the history of the song indicates that the story behind the song may actually be “fakelore” or “processed folklore,” and not actual, factual history. I learned about the Drinking Gourd story as a kid in school, and I know there have been planetarium shows based on it. I hadn’t looked much into the matter myself, but I recently came across that bit of research about the song and found it interesting. I haven’t yet looked into what that means for the Big Dipper/Drinking Gourd star group’s role in history, although it could possibly be that the Big Dipper/Drinking Gourd asterism was used to point people’s way north, because it does point to the north star. –Here ends your random aside for the day.