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Sky Report -May 2011

As Jupiter leaves the Western Dusk Sky,  Saturn appears in the Eastern Evening Sky

Sights seen all through May – The Big Dipper appears high in the Northern evening sky, dumping its soup onto the North Star below. The two end stars of the scoop point downward to the North Star, a  solitary star appearing half way up in the North. The Big Dipper’s handle can be extended outward to Arcturus, a bright golden star high in the Southern evening sky. Along this same arc, you find Spica, a bright white-blue star lower in the South. Above and to the right of Spica is the bright planet Saturn, shining steadily in contrast to the bright stars that conspicuously twinkle. This is a good month to see Saturn’s icy rings with a telescope. At least 30 power is needed to just barely see the rings. In the western evening sky is an arch formed by the last remaining winter evening stars. From left to right are the bright stars Procyon, then the duller Gemini stars, Pollux and Castor. The arch ends with the bright golden star Capella in the Northwest. There are two summer evening stars making an early appearance in the late evening skies of May. Low in the Northeast is the bright white-blue star Vega, the brightest summer evening star. Even lower in the Southeast is the pinkish star Antares of the Scorpion.

Sights for the first ten days of May:  On the first day of May, the bright planet Jupiter and the dimmer planet Mars are within one moon width low in the eastern dawn (try about 5:45 a.m. from a place with a flat eastern horizon). A very slender crescent moon appears above the Jupiter-Mars pair on this date. Higher and to the right of these two planets is the brilliant planet Venus. With luck, you may also see the dimmer planet Mercury below and to the left of Venus. The moon will swing from the morning to the evening side of the sun on Tuesday, May 3rd. By Thursday, May 5th, a slender crescent moon will be easily seen low in the 8:45 p.m. western dusk. Saturday, May 7th is National Astronomy Day with Astronomy Clubs having public telescope viewing of the crescent moon and Saturn in the 9 – 11 p.m. evening hours. The Cumberland Astronomy Club will have an open house outside of Tawes Hall at Frostburg State Planetarium then. There will be a free  Planetarium program on the New Planetary Systems (beyond our sun) at the Planetarium in Tawes 302 at 7:30 p.m. There will be free astronomy materials for all those interested. On the morning of May 8th, the brilliant planet Venus and the planet Mercury will appear close in the 5:35 a.m. eastern dawn. On the evening of May 10th, the evening moon will appear half full (like a tilted “D’) in the southwestern sky. Along the moon’s straight edge, the sun is rising, lighting up the crater rims and mountain peaks. A few days before to a few days afterwards are the best times of May to spot the moon’s surface features. Even binoculars held steadily will reveal the larger craters and mountain ranges.

Sights for the middle of May:  During mid May, the moon cruises across the evening sky, moving from Leo (11th and 12th) into Virgo (13th through 15th), becoming full on May 16th (in Libra), then into the Scorpion (17th), in Ophiuchus (18th) and then into Sagittarius (19th and 20th). On the evening of May 13th, the moon is below and to the right of the planet Saturn;  the next evening finds the moon near the bright star Spica of Virgo. On May 17th, the moon appears above and to the right of the bright star Antares of the Scorpion. On May 12th, there are three planets within a 2 degree wide circle low in the eastern 5:35 a.m. dawn. Brightest is Venus, next is Jupiter and in third place is Mercury. On May 18th, brilliant Venus and Mercury are three moon widths apart very low in the 5:30 a.m. eastern sky.

Sights for late May: The moon has now shifted from the early evening sky to the morning or dawn sky. On May 21st, the two planets, Mercury (brighter) and Mars are several degrees apart, appearing very low in the 5:25 a.m. eastern dawn. On May 23rd, brilliant Venus and Mars are only a degree apart low in the 5:25 a.m. eastern dawn. On the next morning, the moon appears half full (like a reversed ‘D’) in the southern dawn sky. Binoculars will reveal the moon’s craters and mountain ranges along the straight right edge. On May 29th, the crescent moon will appear above the bright planet Jupiter in the 5 a.m. eastern dawn. On May 31st, a very slender crescent moon can be seen low in the 5:20 a.m. eastern dawn. Below the moon and very close to the horizon will be the planet Mercury. Then going upward and to the right, you will encounter brilliant Venus, then Mars and finally bright Jupiter.

Our May Planetarium Program at the Frostburg State Planetarium is “New Planetary Systems” with free public programs on May 1, May 8 and May 15 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on each day. The Planetarium is in Tawes 302, just off the front lobby of Tawes Hall that faces the Compton Science Center. Call (301) 687-7799 to request a planetarium bookmark that includes our monthly through the end of the year and a small campus map to help you find convenient parking and the Planetarium.  

By Dr. Bob Doyle

To contact Dr. Doyle, his mailing address is Planetarium, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD 21532 or by email at rdoyle@frostburg.edu.









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