May 2016

To see a video of this information, go to my YouTube Channel

         May this year is a great year for those of us with telescopes (and still cool for those without), with a rare transit of Mercury, Mars’ opposition, and three great planets to look at for most of the night.  Add warmth to the nights and you’ve got a great month to invite your friend with a telescope over.

 

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

Planets you can see around Sunset – Jupiter(S)

Planets you can see throughout the night –Jupiter (SW), Mars & Saturn (SESW)

Planets you can see in the Morning – Mars& Saturn (SW)

 

Mercury – Not visible – between us and the Sun

Venus – Not visible – behind the Sun

Mars & Saturn– Look SouthEast after 10pm and bring a sky map of Scorpius.  Mars, Saturn, and Antares will make a triangle throughout the month, with slight changes each day.  Mars will be the bright-ish reddish light above and to the right of Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius (also red). Saturn will be less bright than Mars, and to the left and above Antares.  By sunrise, they will be in the SW and close to the horizon.

Jupiter – Look South after sunset and Jupiter will be the very bright light below Leo the Lion. It will move toward the South and will besetting in the W between 2am and 3am.

 

EVENTS...

New Moon – 6th (darkest skies)

9th – Transit of Mercury – For the first time in about 10 years, Mercury will cross in front of the Sun from the Earth’s perspective. A small black dot will appear to move across the face of the Sun for about 7.5 hours, and will not happen again until November of 2019.  Here are two more in-depth sources: space.com and eclipsewise.com. 

         Here are the basics for those of us in the Eastern U.S.  At about 7:12am, Mercury will begin its transit across a line that could roughly “slice off” 1/3 of the Sun, reach midpoint at about 10:58am, and reach the other side at about2:42pm.  Times vary a little bit even within time zones, so look up time for your area.

         BUT DON’T GO LOOKING AT THE SUN WITHOUT A FILTER. You’ll need a telescope with a proper solar filter, or you can use your lowest power eyepiece and project the Sun onto a piece of paper about a foot or two behind the eyepiece.  Here’s some more info: Sky& Telescope.

First Quarter Moon – 13th (Visible until midnight)

14th – Close Encounter – Moon & Jupiter – Jupiter and the Moon are only about 3˚apart in the SouthEast after sunset and set in the West around 4:30am.

Full Moon – 21st (Visible all night)

21st – 30th –MARS reaches Opposition & Closest Approach – This is as close as we have been to Mars in the past 11 years, so it will be bigger than usual (Note:NOT anywhere near the size of the full Moon…that’s a hoax, look it up). This makes it a great time to take out the telescope and try to make out some of the surface features of Mars, since Mars is usually pretty small in the telescope most of the rest of the year.  To find Mars, look SE after10pm and find Scorpius low in the sky. Mars is right past the head of the scorpion. More info: Mars and its opposition.

 

21st – 22nd – Close Encounter – Moon, Mars, Saturn, Antares – Look to the East around midnight,and you’ll see The Moon, Mars, Saturn, and Antares making a great quadrangle in the sky.  These will rise up and move toward the South/Southeast by sunrise. 

 

Last Quarter Moon – 29th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

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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