Planetarium

May 2013 Night Sky Calendar

May 2013 Night Sky Calendar


Fortunately, May is a month of absolute beauty and, like a fugue, exists to please itself and resides in a realm beyond all explanation.

Thursday, May 2

LAST QUARTER MOON
The name is "quadrature," and refers to the orientation in which the Moon, Sun and Earth form a ninety degree angle.    Some consider the term curious, as we see half of the Moon's face, not a quarter.  The reference is to position, not appearance.

Sunday, May 5
MARS AND SATURN AT HELIOCENTRIC OPPOSITION
We can't see Mars currently.  (Refer to "Planet Watch.")   However, if we enjoyed a broader view, such as "above" the solar system," we'd see Mars and Saturn on opposite sides of the Sun.    A Martian observer couldn't see Saturn; nor could a Saturnian observer see Mars.   This event is  for those who just can't get enough astronomy.

Monday, May 6

ETA AQUARID METEOR SHOWER PEAKS
This major shower doesn't garner the attention we bestow on the Lyrids, Perseids or Quadrantids.    Meteors appear to emanate from the "water cup" asterism within Aquarius the Water Bearer.   This year, one should see about 10 - 20 meteors after midnight from the eastern sky.      Astronomically, this shower is most interesting because its parent body is Halley's Comet, itself.    The Eta Aquarids are literally pieces of Halley's Comet.  While we won't see the actual comet until 2061, we can still observe fragments of it burning up in our atmosphere.

Thursday, May 9

VENUS 4.1 DEGREES SSE OF PLEIADES
This one is a bit difficult.   One might see the second world and the seven sisters low in the western evening sky soon after sunset, but only if one has a completely unobstructed western horizon.    (i.e. none of those pesky trees, houses or even ground undulations.)     We're about to lose the Pleiades until late summer and about to gain Venus for the rest of the year.  So, the rising prominent planet meets the sinking star cluster.  

Thursday, May 9

NEW MOON
We often don't speak much about the New Moon. Yes, it marks the beginning of another lunation cycle  (# 1118), but it isn't generally visible.    However, one CAN see a new moon when it eclipses the Sun.     This month, observers in the Pacific will see an ANNULAR SOLAR ECLIPSE.  An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon occults the Sun while at a distant point in its orbit.    The Moon angular diameter is smaller than the Sun's, so when the former blocks the Sun, a small "ring of light" remains around it.    The word "annular" derives from the annulus, meaning "little ring."       Alas, those of us in the northeastern United States will miss this one.     Too bad, considering that meteorologists have assured us we'll have clear skies until 2016.

Saturday, May 11

MERCURY AT SUPERIOR CONJUNCTION
Here's another event for the astronomers.   Mercury is at superior conjunction, meaning that it is behind the Sun relative to us.  However, this time, the mad little first world is actually "occulted" by the Sun.   Most of the time, Mercury is either above or below the ecliptic, the Sun-Earth line when it moves into superior solar conjunction.  This month, it actually moves behind the Sun.  If we could hollow out Sol, we'd see Mercury moving "through it," a sort of negative transit.   Again a purely academic exercise, as we simply won't see Mercury because the Sun is in the way.  Mercury will move into the evening sky later this month.  (See Planet Watch.)

Sunday, May 12

MOON 2.6 DEGREES OF JUPITER (BRONZE EVENT)
Jupiter will soon set.  Presently, one can see it low in the western evening sky.  Tonight, one can also see the thin crescent Moon close to it.      As these bodies are so low, one will have to find them both soon after dark.     The coupling of the largest planet and the crescent moon is invariably beautiful, but this gathering will prove elusive, hence the Bronze designation.

Monday, May 13

SUN MOVES IN TAURUS THE BULL
We realize that the Sun is doing nothing of the sort.  Earth revolves around the Sun. Consequently, our star seems to migrate around a circuit of  thirteen constellations comprising the Zodiac.     This retinue consists of  TAURUS THE BULL, Gemini the Twins. Cancer the Crab, Leo the Lion, Virgo the Maiden, Libra the Scales, Scorpius the Scorpion, Ophiuchus the Serpent Charmer, Sagittarius the Archer, Capricornus the Seagoat, Aquarius the Water Bearer, Pisces the Fish and Aries the Ram.   Today, the Sun appears to enter the area designated as Taurus the Bull.

Thursday, May 16

MOON 6.5 DEGREES SSW OF BEEHIVE STAR CLUSTER
The first is almost at the first quarter phase when it approaches the Beehive Star Cluster.  Though we'll lose the Pleiades this month, the Beehive Star Cluster (Praesepe) remains until July.  See the crescent moon and the Beehive together in the western evening sky.

Saturday, May 18

FIRST QUARTER MOON
(Hey, check it out...I am going to cut and paste the text from the last quarter moon section and I'll hope nobody notices.)
The name is "quadrature," and refers to the orientation in which the Moon, Sun and Earth form a ninety degree angle.    Some consider the term curious, as we see half of the Moon's face, not a quarter.  The reference is to position, not appearance.

Wednesday, May 22

MOON 0.54 DEGREES WNW OF SPICA
Spica is the brightest star in Virgo the Maiden and the 15th brightest star in the night sky.    It will appear quite close to the gibbous Moon.   The Moon will actually occult (move in front of) Spica from regions in the south Pacific.   We won't see any such occultation.  Instead, the Moon and star will appear quite close together.


Thursday, May 23

MOON 3.7 DEGREES SSW OF SATURN
A lovely sight that might have been a medal winner were it not for two other splendid events slated for later this month.    Saturn is becoming more prominent and tonight one can find the nearly full moon traveling with it.   Both remain in the the sky most of the night.

Friday, May 24

MERCURY 1.4 DEGREES N OF VENUS  (SILVER EVENT)
It is always a treat to see two planets so close.     The drawback is position: they'll remain low in the western evening sky.  Nevertheless, it is well worth the time to find them both tonight. Distinguishing between them won't prove difficult as Venus will be the brighter of the two.

SATURDAY, May 25

FULL MOON
May's full moon names are some of our favorites as they generally
pertain to spring themes.   Native American names include  "The Budding
Moon," and the "Flower Moon."   May's full moon is also the "Milk Moon,"
and the "Full Corn Planting Moon."       
We'll also have a "penumbral lunar eclipse" tonight, meaning that the Moon will pass through Earth's outer shadow.  We won't see anything, but then again, nor will anyone else.   A penumbral lunar eclipse is an event for the astronomical actuaries.   

MONDAY, May 27

MERCURY 2.4 DEGREES OF JUPITER
Yet again, the gathering of two planets. Jupiter is almost gone completely, at least until July.  Here one has the opportunity to catch a glimpse of a biggest world before it sets.  It joins the ascending planet Mercury tonight.  Jupiter will be the brighter of the two, even though the brightest difference between Mercury and Jupiter won't be as profound as that between Mercury and Venus.

TUESDAY, May 28

VENUS 1.0 DEGREES NORTH OF JUPITER (GOLD EVENT)
The last chance to see Jupiter and a moment to see the two brightest planets together.  In a perfect sky, they'd be farther from the Sun.     However, we can't dictate our preferences to the heavens, so we shall just have to manage.    See the two brilliant worlds in the evening sky soon after sunset. A splendid way to bid adieu to Jupiter while welcoming Venus!

FRIDAY, May 31

LAST QUARTER MOON
"Blue moon" refers to the second full moon in one month.   The second quarter moon in a month is called "the double horned moon."  (The origins of that term date back to 9:13 a.m. May 2, 2013.)  

PLANET WATCH

MERCURY:   Mercury is not visible during the first half of May.    The first world returns to the evening sky toward late May.   It never becomes prominent, but becomes less difficult to find as the month progresses.   VERDICT:  If you must see Mercury, wait until the last week.  It will have appulses with both Venus and Jupiter toward late May.

VENUS:  Venus is also absent during early May.   In fact, we haven't actually seen Venus at all since January.     Fortunately, the goddess world returns in the early evening.   As it true with Mercury, one will have an easier time finding Venus as the month progresses.    VERDICT:   We are delighted Venus has returned and you can find it low in the western evening sky by month's end.    Then again, no need to trouble yourself as Venus will be visible each night for the remainder of 2013.    (Note; It will be SPECTACULAR toward late November and December.)

MARS:   The other planets have come out to play, but Mars still sulks in its fiery caverns.  We'll see it finally return in June.   VERDICT:  Mars remains out of sight all night all month.

JUPITER:   We lose Jupiter by month's end.     However, unlike Venus and Mars, Jupiter will only be behind the curtain a little more than a month.  The bloated king world returns in mid July.   VERDICT:   Find Jupiter low in the western evening sky this month.  Best to look earlier rather than later, even though Jupiter has a few lovely couplings late this month.

SATURN (PICK PLANET!)   Saturn was at opposition in late April.  This month, it is still up all night!   In fact, it is the only visible planet in the night sky a couple hours after sunset.   Saturn occupies the stage without any supporting cast.    VERDICT:    Saturn remains prominent all month.    See it whenever the mood moves you to do so.

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