The sky, June 2-9: ‘Planet parade’ appears to be a figment of AI imagination; WWII light from Big Dipper

Special to, June 2, 2024

Excerpts from weekly Sky&Telescope report.

Let’s deal with this first. There is no “planet parade” spectacle! Friends and relatives may be asking you about the incredible “Planet Parade” they’ve heard is happening in the sky. Some internet and “news” outlets are calling it the third great celestial spectacle of this spring after the solar eclipse and the auroras.

Sorry. The kernel of truth?

Looking West-Northwest. / Sky&Telescope

This week, the seven planets other than Earth are in a line spanning about 90° along the ecliptic. But most of them are too close to our line of sight to the Sun to be seen at all. Only modest Saturn and Mars are in naked-eye view as dawn begins these mornings.

Yet People magazine, to give just one example, is serving this to its 82 million monthly visitors: All About June’s Rare 6-Planet Alignment, Including How to See the ‘Parade of Planets’. The “dazzling display,” People says, “will occur on June 3 in the New York area.The article is so weirdly incoherent that it looks like an AI scraped the web and hallucinated on the scrapings. Did a human staffer even look at it? Welcome to 2024.

■ In early dawn Sunday morning, spot the waning crescent Moon low due east. Look for feeble Mars about 6° or 7° lower left of it (for North America).


■ To many people, “Cassiopeia” means “Cold.” Late fall and winter are when this landmark constellation stands high overhead. But even on hot June evenings, it still lurks low (as seen from mid-northern latitudes). As twilight fades out, look for Cas down near the north horizon: it’s a wide, upright W. The farther north you are the higher it’ll appear, but even as far south as San Diego and Atlanta, all of its five bright stars are above the horizon.


■ With the Moon still out of the evening sky, can you see the big, dim Coma Berenices star cluster? Does your light pollution really hide it, or do you just not know exactly where to look? It’s southwest of the zenith these evenings, 2/5 of the way from Denebola (the tip of Leo’s tail) to the end of the Big Dipper’s handle (the tip of Ursa Major’s tail). Its brightest members form an inverted Y. The entire cluster is about 4° or 5° wide — a big, very dim glow in a moderately dark sky, and a speckly glow in a black sky. It nearly fills a binocular’s view.


■ After nightfall is complete, Vega is the brightest star very high in the east. Barely lower left of it is 4th-magnitude Epsilon Lyrae, the Double-Double. Epsilon forms one corner of a roughly equilateral triangle with Vega and Zeta Lyrae. The triangle is less than 2° on a side, hardly the width of your thumb at arm’s length.

Binoculars easily resolve Epsilon. And a 4-inch telescope at 100× or more should resolve each of Epsilon’s wide components into a tight pair.


■ Bright Arcturus, magnitude 0, shines pale yellow-orange high overhead toward the south these evenings. The kite shape of Boötes, its constellation, extends from Arcturus. The kite is narrow, slightly bent, and 23° long: about two fists at arm’s length. See the illustration under May 31 above.


Crescent Moon passing Castor and Pollux in twilight, June 7-9, 2024

■ For much of the spring at mid-northern latitudes, the Milky Way lies right down out of sight all around the horizon. But watch the east now. The rich Cepheus-Cygnus-Aquila stretch of the Milky Way starts rising up all across the east late these nights, earlier and higher each week. A hint for the light-polluted: It runs horizontally under Vega, along the bottom of the Summer Triangle.

■ New Moon (exactly new at 8:38 a.m. EDT).


■ The waxing crescent Moon returns to the evening sky, crossing the upright Gemini twins as they set for the season, as shown below. This evening the low, thin crescent is only 1½ days old.

The returning Moon isn’t yet lighting up the dark night sky. Get out to tackle tough deep-sky targets now, not a few days from now.


■ The crescent Moon forms a roughly right triangle with Pollux and Castor over it, as shown above. How perfect the right triangle is will depend on your location. Hint: If you’re in the Mountain time zone, examine the triangle really carefully.


■ The Big Dipper has now swung around to hang down by its handle high in the northwest after dark. The middle star of its handle is Mizar, with tiny little Alcor right next to it. On which side of Mizar should you look for Alcor? As always, on the side toward Vega! Which is now the brightest star in the east.

Just a week and a half ago, the Big Dipper floated horizontally in late twilight an hour after sunset (as seen from 40° north latitude). Now it’s angled diagonally at that time, as shown below. In just another week and a half, it will hang straight down by its handle!

The farther north you are, the quicker the Dipper seems to gyrate. If, that is, you can judge the location of your zenith point well enough for you to tell the direction “down” accurately so close to it.

Big Dipper with the stars labeled with the years the light we see in 2024 left them. (Image: IAU/ Arya Anthony)

Face the Big Dipper, nearly overhead toward the north, and you’ll find it tilted diagonally when the stars come out. It won’t stay oriented this way for long!

The stars are labeled here with the years when the light that we see in 2024 left them.

Five are traveling together as part of the Ursa Major Moving Group. The light from these was emitted during World War II. The light from the Dipper’s two end stars is a few decades older. The light itself, of course, has not aged by even one second, because photons do not experience time at all.

Image: IAU/ Arya Anthony

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