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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Look At The Sky: May

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The Solar System in MAY 2015 : NOTE:  Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all visible in evening hours this month, a very favorable and warm time to venture outdoors to catch up on our Solar System!

Mercury - The tiny planet MERCURY is well positioned for viewing in evening skies; around midmonth, tiny Mercury will be well below bright Venus, setting on the horizon just before complete twilight is over.  Mercury reaches greatest eastward elongation May 7, attaining some 21 degrees altitude above the setting sun, but still is always in bright twilight when seen.

Venus - The brightest and closest to earth of all planets, brilliant VENUS is  now dominating the early evening sky, seen high above the western horizon as twilight commences each night; by mid-month Venus telescopically will present a phase, much like a quarter moon, a bit more than half illuminated as we observe it from earth.  - in GEMINI.

Mars - The Red Planet is now nearly blocked from view by solar glare, setting less than one hour after the sun; it will not be viewable this month -  In TAURUS

Jupiter -  The mightiest of planets, JUPITER now is in the evening sky, nearly due west at setting before midnight and is growing slightly smaller and fainter as the month progresses.  Still very brilliant and yellow however, Jupiter dominates the evening skies but is already approaching the west horizon as evening twilight ends; the planet sets shortly after midnight. - In CANCER.

Saturn - Our ringed planet rises in the east at sunset, coming to opposition on May 23; a very favorable year for this planetary favorite!  Saturn is overhead at midmonth about 1:30 a.m. local time and will be visible all night, very high overhead through the ecliptic for northern observers. -  in LIBRA

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy - Very easily still the best comet in our skies, a left-over from its brilliant showing starting late in 2014 and continuing until today.  The comet is high overhead for northern observers, circumpolar and thus in the sky all night for observation, just south of the polar star Polaris.  In the constellation of Cephus, the comet will have a south-east pointing tail and should be around 10th magnitude, still exhibiting a very bright and large coma.

May 1 - Phi Bootid Meteors - A really long term meteor shower that actually begins on or about April 16 and persists until May 12, emanating from the constellation of Bootes AND Hercules (the radiant has indeed moved in recent years!), high in the eastern sky at dark, and remain so for most of the night for northern latitudes.  The best time to observe the most of these meteors is always about 2 a.m. local time...this year, the nearly full Moon will dominate the sky for the duration of the night, particularly at the mid-duration of this long shower, so observing a week before will provide for the longest period of observations, and thus the most meteors.   About 6 meteors can be seen per hour, most medium bright, relative fast and pretty much overhead, all traced back to northwestern Hercules.

May 3 - Alpha Scorpiid Meteors - The peak of this shower takes place during the week of this year's full moon, so the faintest members of this meteor shower will not be seen for several nights before and after the actual peak date.  The minor meteor shower is another long duration one, beginning in early April on the Libra-Scorpius border and slowly moving into the constellation of Ophiuchus by May 9!  The motion of this radiant is of much interest to astronomers and your detection of meteors from night to night as to where they appear to originate is very important; the radiant will rise in the far southeastern sky about 9 p.m. local time and be overhead at 1 p.m. the following morning....unfortunately the strong moonlight will hamper this year's viewing during our warm spring evening skies.

May 5-6 - Eta Aquarid Meteors - Normally one of the finest meteor showers of each year, the Eta Aquarid meteors were recorded as early as 401 A.D. by the ancient Chinese we know them to be part of TWO debris clouds left in the wake of famous HALLEY's COMET through which the earth passes each year.  Meteors can be seen from this shower all the time from April 21 through May 12, but the peak is fairly steep and occurs each year on May 4.....look for brilliant and spectacularly exciting fireballs from May 9 through 11, all of which will normally be seen but with the strong gibbous moon, just past full, few faint meteors will be seen in 2015.   The radiant for this meteor shower is located very near the star asterism known as "The Water Jar" in Aquarius, but moves a bit northeast each day through the long period the meteoric cloud persists around the earth.  Note that this meteor shower for northern latitudes is very low in southern skies...most meteors should be seen coming from the EAST horizon (not overhead like most showers!) about 2 am......but by 7 a.m., note that the most frequent meteors appear to originate about halfway from that point to overhead.  On most dates with not-so-dark skies such as we will have in 2015 up to 10 Eta Aquarids per hour might be expected, most bright and leaving glowing "fireball" trails behind them.   This will be a very poor year in hopes of seeing these fine meteors, and only the many bright fireballs may be seen.

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