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May 2018

Sky Report - May 2018

By Dr. Bob Doyle, Emeritus Faculty
Dr. Doyle taught and was Planetarium Director at Frostburg State University for over 40 years

Early May(May 1-8)

Sunrises are about 6:13 a.m. with sunsets about 8:12 p.m. Daily sunlight lasts 14 hours. The brilliant planet Venus is prominent in the western dusk. The very bright planet Jupiter rises shortly after sunset, peaking in the South in the middle of the night. Both of these planets outshine any of the night stars and shine more steadily. The moon was full in late April, so it’s prominent in the late evening sky on April 1-3. In the southern dawn (about 5 a.m.) on April 4, the moon is to the right of the planet Saturn. On May 6, the moon appears close to the bright planet Mars in the 5 a.m. southeastern dawn. Both Saturn and Mars are as bright as the brighter night stars but shine more steadily. Saturn is crème colored but Mars has a distinct yellowish tint. In the western twilight, there is an arch formed by the last remaining winter evening stars. Facing West, you will see (from left to right), the stars Procyon, the stars Pollux and Castor of Gemini and Capella of the Chariot Driver. Nearly overhead is the bight golden star Arcturus. In the East, the bright white-blue star Vega sparkles. High in the West is the sickle of Leo, whose bright star Regulus, marks the Lion’s heart. You can print out a very nice monthly evening sky map at

Second Quarter of May (May 9-16)

Sunrises are about 6:05 a.m. with sunsets about 8:20 p.m. Daily sunlight lasts 14 and a quarter hours. On the evening of May 8th, the planet Jupiter is closest to the Earth at a distance of 409 million miles or 37 light minutes. When we look at Jupiter, we are actually seeing Jupiter as it was 37 minutes earlier as its reflected sunlight has taken 37 minutes to reach our eyes. Of course, it takes years for the night stars to reach us. Polaris, the North Star lies 430 light years from the Earth. So as we view this star half way up in the North, we see it as shone in 1588, the year when the Spanish Armada was defeated by the English. The moon shifts from the morning to the evening side of the sun on May 15. This event is called New Moon, for the ancient belief that the moon each month was born from the fires of the sun. New Moons can have a solar eclipse when the moon’s shadow touches the Earth, turning day into night. The next solar eclipse in the eastern U.S. will be in April 2024. To the West of this area in Ohio, there will be a total eclipse of the sun.

Third Quarter of May (May 17-23)

Sunrises are about 5:58 a.m. with sunsets about 8:26 p.m. Daily sunlight lasts 14 and a half hours. On the evening of May 17, the crescent moon will appear underneath the planet Venus in the western dusk. On the evening of May 21, the evening moon will appear half full (like a ‘D’). The evenings of May 19-23 will be best for spotting the moon’s surface detail through a telescope. Through binoculars, the larger craters will appear as rough areas along the moon’s left edge. The bright planet Jupiter will appear low in the Southeast in the evening hours. Binoculars held steadily will reveal Jupiter’s big moons as tiny points of light near Jupiter. The planet Saturn is rising in the Southeast in the last hour of the evening, shining in front of the stars of Sagittarius. Mars doesn’t appear till after midnight, appearing as a bright yellow point of light. Mars will be brightest and closest to the Earth in late July this year. Late next month, the innermost planet Mercury may be seen low in the western dusk. Most of the bright winter evening bright stars have been swallowed in the western dusk.

Last Quarter of May (May 24-31)

Sunrises are about 5:53 a.m. with sunsets about 8:32 p.m. Daily sunlight lasts 14 and two thirds hours. On May 27, the moon appears to the left of the bright planet Jupiter. The moon is full on May 29, rising about sunset and staying visible all through the nine hour night. In the months around the start of summer in late June, the sky path of the full moon is rather low and the moon gives off a lot less moonlight. In the months around the start of winter in late December, the sky path of the full moon is very high and the moon is very generous with its moonlight. When you view the bright planet Jupiter in the southeast evening sky, you will notice a bright twinkling star with a pinkish tint. This is Antares, which means ‘rival of Mars’, the bright star in the Scorpion’s head. Antares is a red supergiant star that has about 10,000 times the power of our sun. It lies at a distance of 600 light years. About 600 years ago, the Portuguese under Prince Henry the Navigator attempted to sail down the West coast of Africa to find a shorter way to reach India and China.

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