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Sky Report - May 2012

Venus Drops into Western Dusk while Mars and Saturn Twice Visited by Moon

In May, the planet Venus' angle from the sun drops from 39 degrees to 7 degrees as it gains on the Earth in its race about the sun. Venus distance from Earth shrinks from 41 to 28 million miles in May. During May, Venus setting time drops from 3.4 hours to 0.5 hours after the sun. So at the start of May, Venus can be seen almost all evening. As May ends, you would be lucky to catch a glimpse of Venus for a few minutes very low in the western twilight. Venus in a telescope will shrink from a fat crescent full early in the month to a razor sharp sliver as the month ends. On June 5th in the late afternoon, Venus will pass directly in front of the sun at a distance of 27 million miles from the Earth.

On the evening of May 1st, the moon will appear underneath the yellow planet Mars. On May 4th, the moon will appear underneath the planet Saturn. The moon is full on May 5th, shining in front of the stars of Libra. This full moon will be close to the moon's closest distance to the Earth, so this full moon should be a bit brighter than most full moons. Expect very strong tides in coastal areas. A week after full moon, the moon will appear half full in the early morning sky on May 12th. The moon will pass North of the sun on May 20th. If you are lucky, you may spot a narrow crescent moon close to brilliant Venus low in the western dusk on May 22nd. On May 28th, the moon will again pass under the planet Mars.

Early May Sights - The month opens with the moon 2/3rd full in the southwestern evening sky underneath and to the left of the planet Mars. On the evening of May 4th, the moon forms a triangle with the planet Saturn (on top) and the star Spica (to the right). On May 5th, the moon is full, shining in front of the stars of western Libra. On May 7th, the moon appears to the left of the star Antares, the brightest star of the Scorpion. The Big Dipper is high in the North and underneath is the North Star. Extend the Big Dipper's handle outward and you'll come to the bright orange star Arcturus, nearly overhead.

Mid May Sights - By May 12th, the moon has shrunk to half full in the morning dawn sky. This will be about the last time this spring that you can see Venus easily in the western dusk as its angle to the sun is shrinking about a degree each day. Look about 9:30 p.m. as it gets dark. Opposite to Venus in the Northeastern sky is the white-blue star Vega, the only bright star that nearly passes overhead. The brightest western stars forms an arch in the early evening sky; from left to right are Procyon, Pollux & Castor of Gemini and Capella. Venus will appear below and to the left of Capella. On May 20th, the moon will pass South of the sun, going from East of the sun (morning sky) to West of the sun (evening sky).

Late May Sights - Look for the bright planet Venus and a slender crescent moon to the left of Venus around 9:15 p.m. on May 22nd. The moon appears near the bright star Regulus of Leo on the evening of May 27th. On May 28th, the half full evening moon appears near the yellow planet Mars. This is your best opportunity of the month to glimpse the moon's craters and mountains through a small telescope or binoculars held steadily. For along the moon's straight or left edge, the sun there is rising, lighting up the crater rims and mountain peaks. On the last day of May, the moon appears close to the bright star Spica and the planet Saturn above.

In May, our free public sky show in the 2nd floor of Compton Science Center is "Grazers of the African Plains and their Skies", especially the antelopes across eastern Africa. Also included is a look at their Skies where the nearest galaxies to our own are on view, as well as the nearest star system to our sun, Alpha Centauri. Our programs start on Sundays at 4 p.m. and end up in the Science Discovery Center where some remarkable specimens are on display. These programs will be on the first three Sundays of May, the 6th, the 13th and the 20th. The Compton Science Center is the large building close to the Performing Art Center. You can park in front of Performing Arts Center and walk around it to the right. Or you can park near Frampton Hall. The full program will last less than an hour.

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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