Saturn is the pick of the planets this month, looking lovely and bright in the evening sky. Jupiter is disappearing in the west, and by the end of the month it joins Mercury and Venus, in the evening twilight.
The Melbourne Planetarium is undergoing a major technology upgrade this month. The Planetarium will be closed from 25 May to 2 June, while we install a completely new fulldome projection system together with a 7.1 surround sound system. We’re looking forward to brighter colours, higher resolution and richer sound from your favourite planetarium shows.
Annular Solar Eclipse
On the 10th May, Australia will be treated to a special solar eclipse, called an annular eclipse. The Moon will meet up with the Sun in the sky, just like a total eclipse, except the Moon will appear too small to completely block the Sun. Instead, we will be left with a ring of sunlight shining out from around the dark Moon.
The annular eclipse will be seen from a narrow line across the top of Australia, including Tennant Creek, Northern Territory.
Here in Melbourne, we will see a partial eclipse, with 37% of the Sun’s diameter blocked out by the Moon. Remember, it is not safe to look at the Sun directly – the only way to view the eclipse is either with a solar-filter telescope or using special eclipse viewing glasses.
Timings of the partial eclipse from Melbourne on Friday 10th are:
Eclipse Begins: 7:50am
Eclipse Maximum: 8:52am
Eclipse Ends: 10:02am
Sunrise & Sunset Times
The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Monday 13th, at a distance of 405,826 km.
The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Sunday 26th, at a distance of 358,374 km.
Let The Moon Be Your Guide
The Moon can be used as a pointer to find other objects in the sky:
- Just after sunset on the 12th, the thin crescent Moon is to the left of Jupiter, low to the north-west horizon.
- On the 16th, the waxing crescent Moon is to the right of Procyon (Canis Minor).
- The First Quarter Moon is near Regulus (Leo) on the 18th.
- On the evening of the 22nd, the waxing gibbous Moon is very close to Spica (Virgo).
- Then on the 23rd, the Moon travels across the evening sky with Saturn.
- The Full Moon rises with red supergiant star Antares (Scorpius) on the 25th.
Mercury can be found in the evening twilight during the last few days of the month. It is near Venus, which is a useful guide for finding Mercury. On the 26th, Mercury is to the right of Venus, while Jupiter sits above.
Venus reappears in the evening sky at the end of the month. It can be found low to the north-west during evening twilight, along with Jupiter and Mercury. On the 29th, Jupiter is to the left of Venus, while Mercury is to the right.
Mars remains too close to the Sun to be seen this month.
Jupiter heads into the glare of evening twilight this month. During the early part of the month, you can see it after sunset low to the north-west horizon. Sitting to the left of Jupiter is the red giant star Aldebaran (Taurus) and on the 12th, the crescent Moon will come between them. By the end of the month, Jupiter joins Venus and Mercury in the twilight sky.
Saturn looks great this month and can be found over in the east at sunset. Having just passed opposition, it is at its closest and brightest. On the 23rd, it will be joined by the almost full Moon.
The Eta Aquarids is linked to Comet Halley and is usually a good shower for the southern hemisphere, with typical rates reaching 30 meteors per hour. The peak of the shower is on the 6th. Eta Aquarids are often very fast, usually yellow in colour and with persistent trains. The meteors appear to come from the constellation Aquarius, which can be found in the north-east before sunrise.
There are also some minor meteor showers centred on the constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius that can be seen until July. The best time to look for meteors is between midnight and dawn.
Stars & Constellations
The constellation of Scorpius can be seen rising in the south-east. The scorpion's heart is marked by the red star Antares. This is a very rich area of the Milky Way and the scorpion's tail contains many beautiful star clusters that can be seen with binoculars.
The brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, is low to the western horizon. Lying above and to the south of Sirius is Canopus, the second brightest star in the night sky. Canopus belongs to the constellation Carina (the keel).
Prominent in the northern sky is the constellation of Leo, the lion. We view Leo upside down compared to the Northern Hemisphere, so to find Leo, look for an upside down question mark or sickle shape. The brightest star in this constellation is Regulus, meaning ‘little king’.
International Space Station
From Earth, the ISS appears as a bright star that steadily moves across the sky. It can often be seen from Melbourne, for example at:
6:41pm – 6:45pm, Saturday 11th May.
The Station will first appear above the north-west horizon and travel past the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, before disappearing in the south-east.
Predictions of when to see the ISS can be obtained from the website: www.heavens-above.com
On This Day
1st 1958, the powerful Van Allen radiation belts (concentrations of electrically charged particles that surround Earth) are discovered.
4th 1989, Magellan the first planetary mission launched from the Space Shuttle, is sent to study Venus.
5th 1961, Alan Shephard Jr (Mercury 3) became the first American to be launched into space.
7th 1992, the Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on its maiden voyage. It was the 47th shuttle mission.
8th 1963, the first transatlantic colour TV pictures were sent via Telestar 2 (USA).
9th 1962, a laser beam was bounced off the Moon from Earth by MIT scientists.
11th 1916, Albert Einstein’s ‘General Theory of Relativity’ was first presented.
14th 1973, Skylab 1, the USA’s first space station was launched.
16th 2011, the Space Shuttle Endeavour was launched on its 25th and final mission.
18th 1991, Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space, blasts off onboard a Soyuz spacecraft.
18th 1969, Apollo 10 was launched. It was a full dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 mission without actually landing on the Moon.
19th 1919, Sir Eddington (UK) observes a total solar eclipse and validates Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.
20th 1990, The Hubble Space Telescope sent its first photograph from space, an image of a double star 1,260 light years away.
25th 1961, President John F. Kennedy launches the USA’s race to the Moon.
28th 1959, Rhesus monkey Abel and squirrel monkey Baker were launched for a brief suborbital space flight in the nose cone of Jupiter Missile AM-18.