Saturn is the pick of the planets this month, looking lovely and bright in the evening sky, as it reaches opposition on the 10th.
But even more interestingly, on the 14th, Saturn will disappear behind the Full Moon in an event known as an occultation. The planet will be hidden for just over an hour; disappearing at 8:50pm and reappearing at 10pm. You’ll need to look towards the north-east to see it all happen.
Saturn is always a favourite object to view through a telescope and in this event, a telescope will show first the leading rings, then Saturn itself, and then its trailing rings passing behind the Moon.
Mars is also found in the north-east after sunset, sitting above and to the right of Saturn. While over in the west is Jupiter and for a short time Mercury. Venus is now the only planet in the morning sky.
Sunrise & Sunset Times
The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Tuesday 6th, at a distance of 404,318 km.
The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Sunday 18th, at a distance of 367,098 km.
Let The Moon Be Your Guide
The Moon can be used as a pointer to find other objects in the sky:
- After sunset on the 4th the waxing crescent Moon sits to the left of Jupiter.
- On the 11th the waxing gibbous Moon is near red Mars.
- The following night, on the 12th, the Moon pairs up with Spica (Virgo).
- The 14th sees a special event - the occultation of Saturn by the Full Moon.
- Before sunrise on the 26th the waning crescent Moon sits below Venus.
Mercury makes a brief appearance during the latter half of the month and is most easily seen after sunset on the 30th and 31st. It is very close to the north-west horizon and bright Jupiter will shine above and to the right. The Moon sits to the left of Mercury on the 30th.
Venus is seen in the early morning twilight and each day drifts closer to the north-east horizon. The crescent Moon sits below Venus on the 26th.
Mars can be found bright and red in the eastern sky during the early evening. The bright star Spica (Virgo) sits to the right and further right, but closer to the horizon, is Saturn. On the 11th the Moon sits above Mars.
Jupiter is now moving lower in the north-west after sunset, with the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux, to the right. The Moon sits near Jupiter on the 4th.
Saturn looks great this month as it reaches opposition on the 10th. This means that it lies on the opposite side of the Earth to the Sun. But more importantly it’s when the planet will appear at its best and brightest, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise. A few nights later on the 14th, Saturn will be hidden or occulted by the 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.
Over in the northern hemisphere stargazers may get the chance to see a brand new meteor shower on the 24th. The shower is expected to be centred on the constellation of Camelopardalis, which is very close to Polaris or the North Celestial Pole and therefore is not visible from here in Melbourne. The shower is due to Comet 209P/LINEAR, which was discover in 2004 and estimates suggest that at its peak a few hundred meteors might be seen per hour.
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:
6:35pm – 6:40pm, Saturday 10th May.
The Station will first appear in the north-west and travel past Jupiter 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 Telstar 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.