Watch The Solar System In Gridlock As Jupiter And The Sun Stop Moving: What You Can See In The Night Sky This Week
Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.
What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: June 14-20, 2021
The Solar System at a standstill. How can that possibly be? It cannot, but it may appear that way this week as first Jupiter then the Sun appear to cease their journeys through our sky and stop dead in their tracks.
Jupiter in retrograde is merely a line of sight issue and not a real thing (tell that to astrologers!) while Sunday’s solstice is something conceptual rather than obviously visible, but learning about both events as you stargaze will give you a learned perspective on the wonders of our Solar System.
Summer stargazing is here!
Friday, June 18, 2021: First Quarter Moon
Tonight after dark the Moon will look half-lit. In fact, the Moon is constantly half-lit by the Sun, but from here it just doesn’t look that way. That’s because the Moon is constantly orbiting, getting further from the Sun as it waxes to full Moon, then closer to it as it wanes to a New Moon.
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There are eight phases of the Moon; at First Quarter it rises in the east at noon and sets at midnight.
Sunday, June 20, 2021: Jupiter stands still
Like all the planets, Jupiter moves eastward through the constellations. It’s currently in Aquarius and during its 12 years orbit of the Sun it will move through all of the zodiacal constellations. However, today it appears to standstill—and tomorrow it will go “backwards,” appearing to travel westwards. Jupiter in retrograde!
It’s all about perspective of course; Earth is moving much more quickly around the Sun than Jupiter, so from here it just seems like Jupiter is moving backwards (think of being in a speeding car and overtaking another car—it will appear to go backwards).
If you want to see the giant planet, it rises in the east after midnight this week. It’s actually great news for pus planet-gazers since Jupiter—and all the planets—appear to go retrograde a few months before Earth slides into position between them and the Sun.
That’s the moment of opposition, when a planet is biggest and brightest in our night sky. Jupiter’s opposition is on August 19, 2021.
Sunday, June 20, 2021: Summer Solstice
Summer solstice 2021—when the Sun reaches its highest and northernmost point in the sky, stops, and starts moving southward—for the northern hemisphere is 03:32 tomorrow in Universal Time. That translates as 7:32 p.m. PST today and 11:32 p.m. EDT.
Either way, North America gets to celebrate the longest day during the night. Weird! It’s nothing to do with day or night for any location, but instead it’s a global moment when the North Pole is at its maximum tilt toward the Sun. Cue the longest day and shortest night 2021.
In fact, the word “solstice” “comes from the Latin words “sol” and “sisto”—“Sun” and “stop.”