• The planets Venus and Jupiter, top, share the evening sky behind the cross atop of the First Nazarene Church in Hutchinson, Kan., Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

Night sights: Saturn joins bright Jupiter on sky's stage

Sunday, June 4, 2017

This June finds mighty Jupiter taking center stage in the evening sky, while the ringed world Saturn enters the scene stage-left.

As darkness falls, it's hard to miss Jupiter, dazzling high in the southern sky. Jupiter's steady bright light shines on earth without twinkling, unlike the stars.

One such twinkling star is Spica, a bright bluish star a bit to the lower left of Jupiter. It is impossible to distinguish the distances of these two worlds from our earthly vantage point, but Jupiter, a planet in our solar system, is far closer than Spica.

Jupiter is around 500 million miles from Earth. Spica, however is 250 light years from Earth, which means its light takes 250 years to reach us. As you gaze at Jupiter, scan over to Spica, and remember that you are seeing light that left in the year 1767.

Saturn is at opposition this month, meaning that it is opposite the sun from Earth, forming a straight line. Planets at opposition rise as the sun sets and are visible all night long. The exact date of opposition is June 15 when Saturn is fully illuminated by the sun and brighter than any other time during the year. Even a small telescope can reveal Saturn's rings.

Saturn will be low in the southeast as darkness falls. On June 9, the full moon sits just to the left of Saturn.

If you've noticed the very bright object in the eastern sky before sunrise, you have probably spied the planet Venus. Our sister planet, as Venus is known, reached its highest point above the sun in the dawn sky on June 3. From now on, it gradually sinks closer to the horizon each morning. Still, it stays visible as a bright white light all summer long.

Brad Nuest is a space science educator at the Cosmosphere. Email: bradn@cosmo.org.