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May Starwatch

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June starts out with Saturn low in the south and east of Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. The two have been a pair for many months, and they move steadily toward the west as summer goes by. In the fall, both will disappear into the sunset.

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The bright star above Saturn is Arcturus, in Bootes, the herdsman. Arcturus is an orange star with a diameter about 25 times that of the sun. It's the brightest star in the dome of sky above the Northern Hemisphere, and one with an unusual trajectory. Instead of circulating in the disk of the Milky Way like the sun and most other stars, Arcturus is plunging down through the disk. It can always be found by extending the curve of the Big Dipper's handle, a trick called "arc to Arcturus."

Moving east from Bootes, we see first the lovely semicircle of Corona Borealis, the northern crown, and then the hourglass form of Hercules. Just east of Hercules is Vega, in Lyra, the lyre, whose brightness almost equals that of Arcturus.

Mercury appears above Venus over the sunset horizon for the first two weeks of the month. On the 10th, a young crescent moon comes out to the left of Venus and should be very pretty.

The summer solstice arrives at four minutes after midnight CDT on the 21st, when the sun appears to pause above the Tropic of Cancer before beginning its long descent to the Tropic of Capricorn. At that moment Earth will be lighted from the Antarctic Circle to the North Pole and beyond it to the Arctic Circle on the far side of the planet.

Algonquin Indians called June's full moon the strawberry moon, and this year it's the centerpiece of the summer's biggest event. It happens in the early morning of the 23rd, when the moon reaches fullness almost at the moment of perigee (its closest approach to Earth in a cycle) and we get the closest and brightest moon of the year.

This full moon's diameter will be about 14 percent bigger than if it were at a typical apogee (the most distant point in its cycle), and its disk about 30 percent brighter. It reaches perigee at 6 a.m. and fullness barely a half hour later.

Unfortunately, the moon sets shortly before then (exact times vary with location). So to see this big, luminous moon, you'll have to get up early. Or look the night

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