Judy Isacoff: Heaven, Earth meet at solstice time


Last Saturday evening, I was drawn outdoors at dusk by the closeness of Mars to the waxing gibbous moon.

It was earlier in the evening than I had intended to reconnoiter for current celestial events, given that darkness falls slowly as the summer solstice approaches. I had hardly alighted from my doorstep when unanticipated charms of the season transported me. Without looking up, stars seemed to fill the atmosphere above the rolling meadows and many streaked like shooting stars and vanished in the darkness. A profusion of still and moving points of light floated, dipped, curved and flashed close above the ground. Insects -- lightning bugs, fireflies -- silently pulsating, were accompanied by an invisible, trilling chorus of gray treefrogs. And then, sonorous tones of individual bullfrogs entered into the song and dance, sounding like cows mooing.

Tonight, June's Honey Moon, now in its waning gibbous (larger than half) phase, climbs above the east-southeast horizon at 10:37 p.m., minutes after Jupiter drops below the west-northwest skyline. During this time of shortest nights, star and planet gazing begins at about 9:20. With a clear view to the west, count on a short window of half-an-hour or less to bid farewell to the planet and arc of stars that set with it: from left to right, Jupiter, Pollux, Castor, Menkalinan and Capella.

Leo the Lion, one of the most recognizable of all spring constellations, appears in the west at nightfall, above and to the left of Jupiter. As astronomical springtime turns to summer, Leo's brightest star, Regulus, sets before midnight.

Stretched above the opposite horizon from east to northeast, the Summer Triangle is gaining ascendency. It appears above and to the left of tonight's moon. Its stars, in order of radiance, are Vega, Altair and Deneb.

The Summer Solstice occurs at 6:51 a.m. Saturday. The longest days of the year will be from the Friday through Tuesday, June 24.

To contact Judy Isacoff go to: www.naturesturn.org


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