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The Buzz

Eyes To The Skies For Mercury's Elongation East of the Sun




(Photo via Shutterstock)

Star gazers who enjoy seeing the planets in the night sky will get a chance to view Mercury in early June. 

Along with Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter, Mercury is one of the naked-eye planets — the planets we can see from Earth without the aid of a telescope. But these planets aren't always easily visible in the night sky. And of the naked-eye planets, Mercury is considered the most difficult to see, according to Space.com. That's because it's closest to the sun, and the light from the sun often obscures it from view.

Mercury is visible for a few weeks several times a year when it reaches its furthest points east and west of the sun, according to InTheSky.org. On June 4, it will reach its elongation east of the sun. When Mercury is east of the sun, it rises and sets shortly after the sun, creating an opportunity to view it during early twilight just after the sun sets.

On June 4, Mercury will be visible in the western sky, 19 degrees above the horizon, according to InTheSky. It will reach its next elongation west of the sun on July 22. When Mercury reaches its western elongation, it is visible in the sky just before the sun rises.

June is also the month of one of the most anticipated celestial events of the year: the summer solstice, on June 20, which is the longest day of daylight we have each year. While meteorological summer begins June 1 and some people consider Memorial Day to be the unofficial start to summer, the summer solstice marks the start of astronomical summer. 

If you want to be technical about it, astronomical summer will officially begin at 4:44 p.m. Central Standard Time. That's the exact moment of the solstice, when Earth is at its maximum tilt toward the sun, according to the National Weather Service.

The summer solstice is the day we have the most daylight each year, while the winter solstice in December is the day we have the least amount of daylight for the year. On June 20, the sun will rise at 5:15 a.m. and set at 8:29 p.m. Consider the difference in daylight from even a month earlier: On May 20, the sun rose at 5:25 a.m., 10 minutes later, and set at 8:09 p.m., 20 minutes earlier.

June's full moon will be June 5. It will reach its fullest point at 2:12 p.m. Central Standard Time and will appear full in the evening sky that night. 

The full moon in June is called the strawberry moon, a name given by native Algonquin tribes, according to the Farmers' Almanac. The moniker was given because June is the month when strawberries were traditionally ready for harvest. In Europe, the full moon in June was traditionally known as the rose moon.

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