Skynotes May 2016

Month Highlights

Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are lovely to see in the evening sky this month. Jupiter can be found towards the north, while Mars and Saturn are rising in the east together with the constellation of Scorpius. Mars reaches opposition this month, so it’s a great time to see the planet.

By morning, Mars and Saturn can be found setting in the west, while over towards the east, Mercury can be seen later in the month.

Sunrise & Sunset Times

  Rise Set
Sunday 1st 7:01 5:33
Wednesday 11th 7:10 5:22
Saturday 21st 7:18 5:15
Tuesday 31st 7:26 5:09

Moon Phases

New Moon Saturday 7th
First Quarter Saturday 14th
Full Moon Sunday 22nd
Last Quarter Sunday 29th

The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Friday 6th, at a distance of 357,827 km.

The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Thursday 19th, at a distance of 405,933 km.

Let The Moon Be Your Guide

The Moon can be used as a pointer to find other objects in the sky:

  • During evening twilight on the 8th, the thin waxing crescent Moon is just below Aldebaran (Taurus).
  • After sunset on the 10th, the Moon sits between Betelgeuse (to the left) and the twin stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux (to the right).
  • On the 14th, the waxing gibbous Moon is above Regulus (Leo, the lion).
  • Then on the 15th, the Moon is very close to Jupiter.
  • During the evening of the 18th, the Moon can be found near Spica (Virgo, the maiden).
  • On the 21st, the Moon is near bright red Mars.
  • On the 22nd, the Full Moon travels across the sky with Saturn just nearby.

Planets

Mercury can be seen during the last week of the month. It rises in the north-east just before sunrise.

Venus moves too close to the Sun to be seen this month.

Mars looks stunning rising in the east after sunset. The planet reaches opposition on the 22nd, and so it is currently shining at its best and brightest. Because it lies opposite the Sun, Mars will rise at sunset and set at sunrise. It’s also when Mars is closest to us for the year. The red star to the right of Mars is Antares, the red supergiant star in Scorpius. It’s easy to compare the steady glow of the planet compared to the twinkling light of the star. On the 21st, the Moon sits to the left of Mars.

Jupiter is the brightest object to see in the northern sky at sunset. The bright star to the left of Jupiter is Regulus, the ‘little king’ star of Leo, the lion. Trace the curving line of stars below Regulus, to see the constellation of Leo which appears upside-down to us in the southern hemisphere. On the 15th, the Moon will sit just above Jupiter.

Saturn can be seen in the early evening, below the constellation of Scorpius in the eastern sky. It is not as bright as Mars or Jupiter but still stands out against the background stars. On the 22nd, the Full Moon sits to the left of Saturn, with Mars and Antares (Scorpius), sitting above.

Meteors

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:

6:59pm – 7:03pm, Tuesday 3rd May.

The Station will appear near in the north-west and travel past the bright stars Betelgeuse (Orion) and Sirius (Canis Major) before disappearing just below the Southern Cross.

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 on board 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.

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