Highlights for the May Night Sky
Brought to you by: Bob Haskins
Do your part and help preserve the dark skies that we are fortunate to have in Waterville Estates. Turn off all unnecessary outdoor lighting.
After a long winter step outdoors tonight and discover the treasures of the night sky.
The Planets: Evenings on the “Ecliptic” The Sun and the planets all follow an imaginary path in the sky called the ecliptic.
Mars can be spotted in the WNW at dusk and sets around 3 hours after the Sun. It has dimmed over the last few months but just look for the reddish object in the WNW.
Jupiter makes its grand entrance in the night-time sky this month. The planet rises 3 hours after sunset at the beginning of the month and earlier as the month progresses.
Saturn can be seen in the south as day breaks.
Stars and Constellations:
The area around WVE is starting to respond to the increasingly direct rays of our yellow star as the Earth leans more into the Sun. The flowers are starting to poke there way through the soil and we gaze in wonder as the Sun is bringing our planet back to life after a cold winter and the stars of winter are slowly sinking in the west.
This month we are featuring the the “Big Dipper”. (see attached diagram below from Chet Raymo’s book, 365 Starry Nights). Look north and you cannot miss it; however, you might have to explain to the children what a dipper is. People in other parts of the world sometimes refer to it as a plow. The Big Dipper is actually an asterism and not a constellation; it is actually part of the constellation “The Great Bear”. An asterism is defined as a group of stars that are not an official constellation. It is however, probably one of the most famous and familiar of all the asterisms / constellations. No other group of stars, except possible for Orion, is easier to recognize. If you follow the handle of the dipper it will point to the bright star “Arcturus” in the east, which is also known as the “Spring Star”. As your vision travels a little further you will see another bright star “Spica” in the south. Remember, “Follow the arc (handle) to Arcturus and you will spy Spica”.
The two stars that make up the front side of the bowl or cup of the Big Dipper are called the pointer stars (see diagram). If you follow them up they will guide you to Polaris, the North Star (see diagram).
The big news last month was the first direct image of a supermassive black hole. The cosmic portrait belongs to the black hole at the center of M87, the largest galaxy we know of, located 55 million light-years away. The image comes from the Event Horizon Telescope, a network of 10 radio telescopes spread across the planet. The supermassive black hole is almost the size of our solar system, approximately 38 billion kilometers across. In my opinion the picture we saw is far greater, in a way, than its scientific value of validating Einstein’s prediction he made in 1915 – because that image rendered in orange and black is a picture which we can all relate to.
Comment / Factoid of the Month:
The scale used to describe brightness is called “apparent magnitude”. It was invented by Hipparchus over 2000 years ago and has stood the test of time. The brightest stars he referred to as first magnitude and the dimmer ones he called sixth magnitude. The scale has been tweaked in recent times. Arcturus has a rating of 0 and Sirius a -1. The more minus the number is the brighter the object.
Astronomy Websites to explore:
- heavens-above.com (satellites that are passing overhead)
- com (The evening sky map for the month)
- nasa.gov (sign up for alerts for the International Space Station passing overhead)