constellations in driftless Wisconsin

All five visible planets will be there to greet us before sunrise as we journey from spring to summer this month. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn (in that order!) will be in a sparkly string across a quarter of the sky from east to south. We haven’t seen such a gathering since 2004 and won’t see another like it until 2040.

The show starts on June 18. Look south around 4:30 am and hold out your hand. Saturn will be about three finger widths above the Waning Gibbous Moon. Jupiter will be bright in the southeast with reddish Mars about a fist to its left. Venus will be the brightest planet low in the east (where the sky is beginning to brighten) with dimmer Mercury about a fist below and to its left. On June 19 and 20, watch for the Waning Gibbous Moon moving between Saturn and Jupiter.

Summer Solstice is at 4:14 am on June 21, and the first sunrise of summer is around 5:20 am. Look southeast to see Jupiter about two fingers above the Last Quarter Moon. On June 22, you can spot Mars just two fingers to the left of the Waning Crescent Moon. By the next morning, the Crescent Moon is even thinner and is about four fingers to the left of Mars.

June 24 may be the most spectacular morning with Mercury, Venus, Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn nicely spaced out across the southeastern sky. Hold out three fingers on June 25 to find the Pleiades star cluster to the left of the Waxing Crescent Moon and Venus the same distance below the Pleiades. If you have binoculars, use them to bring out more stars in the Pleiades and to see Earthshine on the dark side of the Moon. Venus and the Crescent Moon are always an amazing combination and are at their closest for 2022 on June 26 when they rise together around 3:20am. If you have a clear horizon and skies to the east-northeast, you may be able to see a very thin Crescent Moon rising around 4am on June 27 with Mercury two fingers to its right.

Not much of a morning person? There are public programs to enjoy evening stargazing at Wyalusing State Park on June 18, July 16, August 20, September 17, and October 29. Wildcat Mountain State Park has public astronomy programs on July 22, August 20, and October 8. Hope you enjoy all the stars and planets this summer in the dark skies of the Driftless!

John Heasley is an astronomy educator and stargazer who enjoys connecting people with the cosmos. He volunteers with NASA/JPL as a Solar System Ambassador, with the International Dark-Sky Association as an Advocate, and the International Astronomical Union as a Dark Sky Ambassador. For more information about stargazing in southwest WI, like Driftless Stargazing LLC on Facebook and find out whenever there’s something awesome happening in the skies. Driftless Dark Skies appears monthly in the Voice of the River Valley.