May 2014

May gives us a night sky of 4 planets!  Mars and Saturn are the most prominent.  More importantly, pay attention on the night of the 23rd when we will likely get a new meteor shower, if not a meteor storm!

 

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset – Mercury (W), Jupiter (W), Mars (S), Saturn (SE)

Planets you can see throughout the night – Mars (SàW), Saturn (SEàSàW)

Planets you can see in the Morning – Saturn (SW), Venus (E)

 

Mercury – Tough to find, but easiest around the 22nd of May when it’s more than 10˚ above the horizon and sets almost 2 hours after the Sun.  Look West after sunset and bring binoculars and a star map with Mercury on it, or a planetarium app on your phone.  Close to an almost impossibly thin Moon on the 30th.


Venus Venus will be very bright again this month in the morning toward the East.  It rises pretty much after 4:30am and is about 20˚ above the horizon by sunrise. Closest to the Moon on the 25th. 

 

Mars – This is a good time to try to take a look at Mars.  The Earth has lapped Mars in the race around the Sun just last month, bringing us closer to it, but we are racing ahead of it, making it dimmer and smaller in the sky.  Look in the South after sunset or in the West before 4am and look for the visibly red “star”.  It’s hanging out in Virgo this month.  Close to the Moon on the 10th. 


Jupiter – Jupiter is out until about 11:30pm.  Look W after sunset for the brightest “star” currently in the middle of Gemini.  Close to the crescent Moon on the 3rd and 4th.

 

Saturn – Look in the Southeast after sunset for the bright point that is Saturn, which rises and moves to the SW by sunrise. Closest to the Moon on the 13th. Try taking out your binoculars or telescope to find the rings at its side.  It reaches opposition this month, making it visible all night and the closest it will be to the Earth this year.





EVENTS...

 

3rd – 4th Close Encounter – Moon & Jupiter – Find the crescent Moon in the West after sunset.  Jupiter will be the bright “star” nearby. 

 

First Quarter Moon – 6th (Visible until midnight)

 

10thClose EncounterMars, Moon – Check out the Gibbous Moon in the South.  Mars will be about 6˚ to the left of it and very red.

 

13thClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Look to the SE after sunset and you can see a pretty much Full Moon, with Saturn about 5˚ to the left of it.

 

Full Moon – 14th (Visible all night)

 

Last Quarter Moon – 21st (Visible from midnight into the morning)

 

23rd – 24th – NEW METEOR SHOWER – Good news for North Americans.  You’ll be able to see this new meteor shower, probably called the Camelopardalids.  It’s new because a comet had an encounter with Jupiter that nudged its orbit near Earth’s, leaving a trail of dust that we will plow through.  We don’t know how many there will be per hour, since this is new, but they range anywhere from less than 100 to up to 400 (a meteor STORM!).  We’ll see. You’ll also see more the later you stay up.  More info here

Some advice for watching:

    Find a dark location and lie down in a reclining chair or swimming pool floaty

    Look North, and keep a wide eye.  That is where the radiant is - where the meteors will appear to be coming from.

Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear (weather.com has a good map here)

Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something. 

If you’re feeling extra nerdy, do a scientific meteor count.  More info at S&T and IMO

 

25thClose Encounter – Moon, Venus – Before sunrise, look to the East and find a thin crescent Moon. Venus will be about 3˚ below the Moon, making a very nice morning pair worthy of a picture. 

 

New Moon – 28th (darkest skies)

 



CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a SkyMap for this month – or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

After Sunset (sunset is between 8:00pm and 8:30pm)Ursa Major’s legs, Leo, Leo Minor -

Midnight – Bootes – find the Big Dipper’s handle, and starting from the inside of the handle, follow the arc that those four stars make past the last star in the handle about 30˚ or three fist-widths to the next very bright star you find which is Arcturus, the base of the constellation Boötes.  Hence astronomers use the phrase “Follow the Arc to Arcturus”

Early Morning – Hercules, Lyra, Cygnus – These are the Summer constellations, and since they are starting to rise in the morning now, that means that summer is on its way.


GENERAL CONSTELLATION FINDING TIPS: 

Spring constellations:  Bootes, Virgo, Leo, Corona Borealis, Hercules. 

First find the Big Dipper in the North (a North Circumpolar Asterism that never sets) and look at the handle.  Starting at the star closest to the “cup” part, follow the rest of the stars in the handle and follow the arc to Arcturus.  Arcturus is the brightest star in Bootes the Shepherd.  Some say he looks more like a kite, others say more like an ice cream cone. 

Then, following the same “arc”, speed on to Spica.  Spica is the brightest star in Virgo.  Virgo’s a dimmer constellation, so you’ll be rewarded when you find her. 

To the left of Bootes is Corona Borealis.  This is a small collection of stars that make a crown, cup, or U shape in the sky. 

To the left of Corona Borealis is the great constellation of Hercules.  Hercules is the Hero of the sky and has a central “keystone” asterism, in which lies M13, the Hercules Cluster. 

Lastly, Leo is a constellation consisting of a backward question mark (or sickle) and a right triangle to the left.  Use the two Big Dipper “cup” stars that are in the middle of the Big Dipper and follow the line they make to the bright star Regulus, the brightest star in Leo.

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.



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