The summer skies are slowly starting to roll in. They are much maligned for being the least filled so far as interesting things go, but as they’re shorter this could be a good thing. Here is a glimpse at the May skies. A new feature, just to add a bit of colour, sees some star charts added to this blog. The first one shows midnight tonight (the first day of May) the second shows midnight on the 15th of the month and the third shows midnight on the last day of the month. The dots represent brighter stars, green circles are star clusters, nebulae, galaxies and the like and the very brightest stars, the Moon and the planets are named when they appear. Sky charts provided using Stellarium.
Mars is still rather dim and rises only a short while before sunrise. This will improve during the month, but not by very much. Helpfully, it is positioned just below Venus, which acts as a marker for those wanting to find it. Another month or so will see Mars becoming more easily visible.
Venus will be rising with Mars at much the same time, but will be a lot brighter at magnitude 4.4. Venus remains at a similar magnitude throughout the year as when it is further from us, it is closer to a full Venus, whereas now, when it is close to us, it shows a crescent Venus.
Jupiter is improving in visibility over this month. It rises at 3am at the beginning of the month and 1am by the month’s end. Its magnitude is also increasing from -2.3 to -2.5 during this time. The best time to see it still remains predawn, when it will be highest.
Saturn remains well placed for observation, presently appearing just below the constellation of Leo, rising in the evenning. It is an obvious bright dot below Leo by the naked eye, a yellow disc with a slender line through it through a telescope. This slender line, once the great rings of Saturn, will continue to thin and thin as Saturn approaches the point in its orbit where the rings will be edge on to the Earth. The rings, the moon Titan and some bands should be visible through even a small telescope – though a fast one like mine does wash out the bands.
Mercury has passed greatest elongation and now will be approaching the position of the Sun. It vanishes behind the Sun on May the 18th, but looking in the western sky at sunset should show the planet close to the Pleiades at the very beginning of the month.
A few things outside the solar system
In the lower part of the constellation of Gemini lies a Cepheid variable star, which alters its luminosity from 3.6 to 4.2 magnitudes, over ten or so days. To the lower right of Gemini is the Eskimo nebula. Gemini is visible just after sunset in the west, close to Orion.
The constellation of Leo provides not only a colourful sickle of different stars, but also (between its body and the planet Saturn) two galaxies of magnitude 8.9 and 9.3, M66 and M65, respectively. Further to the West, a magnitude 9.2 and 9.7 pair of galaxies – M96 and M95. A final galaxy can be found by following the sickle to wear the point should be and using the two stars along the point, head down to find the magnitude 8.9 galaxy NGC 2903.
The pinwheel and whirlpool galaxies as well as the owl nebula are all available to see this month in and around the Big Dipper, which soon rises overhead after sunset.
The Usual Stuff
If you want to watch satellites flaring or passing in the sky (even sometimes during the day), then go to Heavens Above to get times and directions. If you need assistance in deciding where things are in the sky, why not install the free program Stellarium, which does all the work for you? Finally, to avoid the dreaded clouds, Met Check gives a quick forecast and the Met satellites or other satellites can be used to track breaks in the cloud. For those ISS trackers amongst you, the International Space Station presently hovers above Kendal at around 5am.
There are no public events that I know of, but why not pop along to the Eddington Society, which meets at Kendal Museum on the first Monday of the month? This month, we’ll be meeting on the second Monday to allow members to enjoy the bank holiday unimpeded.