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. Please 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.
Dusk and into the night:
Mercury will be wrapping up a fantastic evening appearance on the first few evenings in May. Look to the west just after sunset. Remember that Mercury can be a tough planet to spot; this will be a good time to catch it.
All the other planets are putting on a show at dawn.
Total eclipse of the Moon occurs on the 15th and peaks just after midnight.
Venus and Jupiter form a close conjunction in the early morning sky low in east the first of the month. Around the middle of the month both planets are extremely bright in the ENE with Mars and Saturn above.
A challenge: on the 27th look for the crescent moon around 7am in the NE and see if you can spot Venus just below the Moon.
New on the 1st
Full on the 15th
Stars and Constellations:
The area around WVE is starting to respond to the direct rays of our yellow star as the Earth leans more into the Sun. The flowers are starting to poke their 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).
Thirty-one years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into space on the back of the space shuttle Discovery. Since then, it has created a niche for itself in the hearts and minds of all lovers of science. The HST has made many discoveries, among them the true age of the universe and has taken many spectacular pictures. I have the picture of the Eagle Nebula’s ‘Pillars of Creation’ hanging on my wall as I write this article.
In 2022 the James Webb Telescope, the successor to the HST, was launched into space. The JWST will be 100X more powerful than the HST and is optimized for the infrared wavelengths. This will allow it to see through the dust and gases of space to reveal the first galaxies formed. It will also take beautiful pictures.
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 means the brighter the object is.
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)