FIRST CRESCENT IN JUNE SKIES IN TANZANIA
The Moon will make it into the news this month following its New Moon phase 27th June. The beginning of the holy month of Ramadhan can be expected on 29th following observation of the first crescent at sunset on June 28. Each day, the Moon shifts significantly in the sky, (nearly 12 degrees per day = 1/30 a full cycle). Hence it will have grown in size and risen high enough to be observable on 28th, a day following the New Moon. The first crescent will be easy to locate soon after sunset low in the western horizon just below the trio of bright planet Jupiter, and the two bright stars Procyon and Pollux.
The weather has been unstable for the past month oscillating between heavy clouds and crispy clear skies. Is this a sign of climate-change being upon us? Possibly, but we hope not. The skies clear up by night time so the delights of the night skies remain open for our eyes to feast on.
For city folks the skies may not show its full glory due to light pollution. Hence just as city kids go off for school trips to the national parks we can join them in the depths of darkness in the parks where the stars light up the sky. Astro-tourism is a novel activity that you can take up easily when you escape the hustle and bustle of city life to visit your grandparents and family in the village. Tourists from outside Tanzania can enjoy the Tanzanian night skies even more since life in their modern, highly lighted cities remove all the darkness of their night skies.
Among the delights this month for the eyes are several planets, the Moon, and several stars forming distinctive constellations. The line up of the planets continues from last month to the end of June. Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Moon appear along the east west line across the sky. Giant Jupiter is close to the western horizon so will be the first to leave the skies towards the end of June. A modest telescope shows the four main moons of Jupiter as tiny starry points, while the planet will be seen as a disk with larger telescopes able to show parallel cloud belts across its middle.
Mars shines brightly red overhead and on its way back towards its normal eastward movement after about two month of retrograde (reverse, westward) movement. It also continues to recede from earth making it shine less brightly as days go by. Through a modest telescope it is seen as a red disk without features.
Saturn is the jewel of the skies though it appears as a tiny steadily shining star half way up towards the east. A telescope shows its beauty of a flat ring system surrounding a the planet disk. Currently the ring system is well suited for viewing and appears as though you are watching it off center from above.
The Moon will shift close to Mars on 5th August and close to Saturn on 8th August, all the time being within the line forming perfect planet lineup of the past few weeks. Follow the progress of the planets, Moon and stars on www.astronomyintanzania.or.tz.
The sky this month shows 18 constellations and asterisms, though you will need to take an astro-tour away from light polluted towns and cities and travel to villages or parks to see them all. Marked alphabetically from A to R these are, from south to north, then east to west: A – Sagittarius the archer, B – Scorpius, C – Ara the alter, D – Triangulum Australe, the southern triangle, and E – the famous Southern Cross continuously pointing south. F – is the False Cross, G – is Vela, the sail, H – is the zodiacal constellation of Libra the scales of justice and I – is the long Hydra the snake. J is Virgo the virgin while K – is Leo the Lion. L - is Cancer the crab while M – is Hercules, N – is Bootes the herdsman and O – is the famous Big Dipper pointing north. P – is Ursa Major, the big bear while Q – is Draco the dragon. R – is the Little Dipper in Ursa Minor whose end star is the North Star but which we never see as it is below the horizon.
Among the bright stars marked ‘m’ to ‘s’ on the map are: ‘m’ – Alpha Centauri the closest star at a distance of 4.3 light years and ‘n’ – is Beta Centauri. ‘o’ - is red star Antares in the neck of Scorpius, ‘p’ – is Spica in Virgo while ‘q’ is the third brightest star Aructurus (the first and second brightest stars are respectively Sirius and Canopus will have set in the south west by 8 pm). ‘r’ – is Regulus in Leo while ‘s’ – is Procyon.
The full glory of the dense concentration of stars and dust can be seen in the Milky Way which stretches across the southern skies from southwest to southeast containing the constellations or asterisms C, D, E, F and G. It runs parallel to the zodiacal constellations A, B, H, J, K, L.
June 21 is the Solstice day this year, when the Sun starts its journey back towards the Equator from its northernmost position of 23.5 degrees at the Tropic of Cancer. This day marks the beginning of northern summers and southern winters.