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New moon in June -- and partial eclipse, meteor showers

Starline

'Earth-stalking' asteroid near Earth, astronomer Steve Kipp says.

2011-06-02
By Steve Kipp, Minnesota State University, Mankato astronomy professor [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 5/31/2011]

Steven KippJune begins with a new moon and a partial solar eclipse. Unfortunately this eclipse won’t be visible to us. It can only be seen in northern Alaska, Greenland, Iceland and other far northern latitudes.

However, eclipses usually occur in pairs, and on June 15 the moon will be full and there will be a total lunar eclipse. But again this eclipse will not be visible in the U.S. To see it you will need to travel to Africa, Australia or southern Asia.

If you are feeling left out and you are looking for some excitement in the sky, the asteroid 2009 BD will pass the Earth slightly closer than the moon on June 2. This recently discovered 10-meter asteroid is in an unusual orbit that is almost identical to the Earth’s orbit. Although the asteroid doesn’t threaten the Earth, its orbital motion has been described as “stalking the Earth." The asteroid won’t be visible to the naked eye.

One of the best daytime meteor showers of the year, the Arietids, peaks June 7. These meteors stream in from the direction of the constellation Aries that rises just before the sun. To try to see these meteors watch the eastern sky starting at about an hour before sunrise. The meteors trails you see will be long and slow. Daytime meteors are detected by radar. However it is also possible to see very bright meteors during the day.

On June 21, 12:16 p.m. CDT, the June solstice occurs. On the solstice the length of daylight is a maximum and the sun is as high in the sky at noon as it ever gets. Of course in southern Minnesota the sun never gets directly overhead, but it will reach a maximum altitude of about 69° above the horizon at local noon. We think of the solstice as the beginning of summer, but it is also referred to as “midsummer” because in the ancient Celtic calendar the summer half of the year begins with Beltane (May 1) and ends with Samhain, literally summer’s end, Oct. 31.

Take the time this June to look for some iridium flares. Iridium flares are reflections from the shiny antennas of a series of Iridium satellites. These reflections are predictable.

When an Iridium flare occurs you see a star-like object appear and get brighter and brighter and then fade. The flare lasts only seconds and as it progresses you see the satellite move.

A bright Iridium flare will occur June 8 at 11:42:25 p.m. CDT. It will appear at an altitude of 34° above the horizon at an azimuth of 240°, which is WSW. Another bright Iridium flare will show itself June 16, 10:45:35 p.m. CDT at an altitude of 38° above the horizon at an azimuth of 50°, NE. Finally, another iridium flare can be seen June 27 at 9:57:39 p.m. CDT at an altitude of 54° above the horizon at azimuth 60°, ENE. Keep in mind that the predicted times of flares can vary by a minute or two.

Once you seen a bright flare you will want to see more. If you go to the website “Heavens Above” you can learn how to predict iridium flares and other celestial phenomena on your own.

(Questions or comments about the monthly "Starline" column may be sent to Prof. Steve Kipp, 141 Trafton Science Center N, Mankato, MN, 56001, or to steven.kipp@mnsu.edu.)

For the online Free Press "Starline" column, click on http://mankatofreepress.com/communityindex/x962126479/STARLINE-June-brings-daytime-meteor-showers-solstice,

For more Free Press news, see the print edition or go to http://mankatofreepress.com/homepage.

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