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Planets are visible in evening skies

KEN FROM/What's Up Tonight

The first full day of summer coincides with Father's Day on June 21, offering us the opportunity to use the many hours of daylight to say, "Happy First Day of Summer" as well as "Happy Father's Day." Summer technically arrives at 1:47 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. Those living in the western Mountain and Pacific time zones have the bragging rights of having summer arrive a day earlier on June 20 at 11:47 or 10:47 p.m. When this was pointed out to one Albertan, he said, "Yeah, but it will likely snow."

With so little darkness for observing the night sky, June allows us to reflect on the reason for the seasons since many of us will wake up to bright sunshine as well as go to bed while the sun still is above the horizon. Many think that we are closer to the sun during the summer months and that this accounts for the warmer days. The opposite is actually true. In earth's orbit around the sun, we are further from the sun in June than we are on the cold days of December and January. Perhaps those living in the southern hemisphere would have a better reason to think that we are closer to the sun in summer since their summer begins in December. The reason for our longer days and warmer weather during the summer can be attributed to the tilt of the earth on its axis rather than to our distance from the sun. The more direct rays of the sun higher in the sky warm our side of the planet during these summer months in contrast to the lower angle of the sun's rays during the winter months.

June is also a good time to recognize that we are almost half way through this International Year of Astronomy (IYA). The United Nations proclaimed 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy, marking 400 years of astronomy since Galileo first used the telescope to explore the heavens. Several planetariums and science centres across North America have special presentations and educational events as part of IYA. Astronomy clubs and individuals are offering viewing sessions at numerous venues. Even daytime observing of the sun, with appropriate solar filters, is being offered in various places. If you would like to check out events in your area, a good place to check is with your local Royal Astronomical Society, which can be found at

For those who wish to pursue the few hours of night available to us, you will find the Big Dipper directly overhead as night begins on June evenings. The bright stars of the summer triangle also appear in the east and make their way across the sky throughout the night. Perhaps you can identify the "northern cross" within the summer triangle. Most major constellations can be identified as readily as we identify the Big Dipper. With the advent of electricity in the past century, most people have not given much attention to the night sky. Yet it is as simple to learn as the streets and roads of your immediate community.

If you would like a good view of the night sky in June, one of the best times will be in the early hours of June 19 and 20. Look to the east just before the sun comes up where you may be able to spot Mars and Venus close to each along with a thin crescent moon. Venus will be easy to identify as it blazes brightly in the pre-dawn sky. Binoculars will help to see the red planet, Mars, close to Venus and then you may also find Mercury lower to the horizon and a bit further north. Jupiter should be higher in the sky in a southerly direction. It is possible that you could see all four of these planets with the naked eye. But, set the alarm early, as this is almost the shortest night of the year.

As you enjoy the warm days of summer you may thank Galileo using a telescope for the first time 400 years ago. His discoveries paved the way for us to understand why summer arrives in June each year.

During the International Year of Astronomy, Ken and Bev From will be offering regular public observing nights at their acreage near Didsbury. Information on observing nights and links to IYA are available on their website,

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