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Looking Up


Looking Up This Month
We keep talking about Mars first as it’s still in the evening sky . . .and we’ll probably keep talking about it for a couple more months. The planet is getting closer to the horizon, but slowly. This month the set-time goes from 11:15pm CDT early in the month to just after 10:30pm late in the month. Not much difference. To accomplish this, Mars cruises along the ecliptic path from Taurus into Gemini. On the evening of May 7, Mars is situated between the “horn stars” of Taurus and a thin cres-cent Moon is to the lower left. On the 16th, it officially leaves Taurus and enters Gemini. If you can catch Mars in a dark sky, on the evening of the 19th, it is just above the rich star cluster, Messier 35. The planet creeps eastward, ending the month just below the star Mebsuta (Ɛ Geminorum). Did you hear we found a few “Marsquakes” with the InSight lander’s seismome-ter?
Mars get some company towards the end of the month as Mer-cury goes through superior conjunction on May 21 and heads to the evening sky. Mercury sets an hour after sunset on the last day of May and will be highest in the sky in mid-June. On May 30, Mercury makes a nice inverted triangle with Mars to the upper left and Capella to the upper right. Use binoculars in the twilight in the west-northwest. More on this planet next month.
Jupiter now appears in our evening sky in the southeast, rising at 11:15pm at the beginning of May (the same time Mars sets) to 9pm at the end. It rises about 40 minutes after Antares. Opposition for Jupiter (when it rises at sunset) occurs early next month. The only issue with Jupiter will be its low alti-tude. When Jupiter is at its highest (about 2:30am), it is still only 27 degrees (just under three fists) high. Jupiter is in the constellation Ophiuchus. At magni-tude -2.5, it will be the brightest star-like object in the area. A just-past-full Moon is to the right of Jupiter
Saturn trails Jupiter by just under two hours. At magnitude 0.37, it’s substan-tially fainter than Jupiter but still pretty bright. I should be easy to pick out in eastern Sagittarius, to the left of the tea-pot asterism. It is highest in the sky dur-ing the hours before sunrise. The tilt of the rings (as we see them anyway) is increasing.
Venus is tough to see just before sunrise. You need a low, un-obstructed horizon, then look just north of east. Through May, Venus rises about an hour before sunrise. Like last month, each morning it seems to rise further to the north but it doesn’t seem to change altitude. By the end of the month, a thin crescent Moon appears to the upper right of Venus.
The Earth crosses the path of Halley’s Comet twice per year with one of those times being in early May. Any dust particles slowing in the atmosphere result in the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower. The shower peaks on the morning of May 6, just two days after New Moon. The shower favors the southern hemi-sphere but, if you’re out and it’s clear (which has been rare as of late!), keep your eyes skyward.
Those up for more of a challenge should make an attempt to see the innermost dwarf planet, Ceres. As the chart shows, the dwarf planet/asteroid is heading westward above Scorpius and to the upper right of Jupiter. The bright star on the left in the chart is Eta Ophiuchi. Opposition occurs on May 28/29 but the object doesn’t get any brighter than magnitude 7, so you’ll need at least some binoculars. On the night of the 24th, Ceres splits between the stars Phi and Chi Ophiuchi. You might try looking a week before this to memorize the starfield, then watch the as-teroid pass between the stars. -DCL