Tuesday, May 06, 2014
The Sky This Week - Thursday May 8 to Thursday May 15
The Full Moon is Thursday May 15. The Moon occults Saturn on May 14 (see below).
Jupiter is in the constellation Gemini and is the brightest object in the early evening sky. Jupiter is becoming harder and harder to observe as it sets earlier.
Jupiter is high enough to begin observing telescopically when twilight ends. Jupiter sets around 21:00, so there is only a couple of hours for good telescopic observation now.
In the early evening it is above the north-western horizon between the bright stars Castor and Pollux, the twins of Gemini, and the bright red star Betelgeuse. Jupiter is quite easy to see as the brightest object in the entire sky in the early evening. In the early evening the sight of bright Jupiter sinking to the west, and bright Mars (still not as bright as Jupiter though) rising in the east is quite beautiful.
Jupiter's Moons are readily visible in binoculars.
Mars is easily seen in the evening, rising as Jupiter is setting. It is highest in the sky around 21:30. Mars was at opposition, when it is biggest and brightest, on the 9th of April, and is still readily distinguishable as the bright red/orange object above the north-eastern evening horizon. Mars is in the constellation of Virgo near the brightish star Porrima, not far from the bright star Spica. Mars is well worthwhile looking at in a telescope now, although you will need a decent one to see any detail.
The Moon is close to Mars on the 11th.
Saturn is rising higher in the evening sky, and is at opposition on the 11th. This is wehn Saturn is closest and brightest as seen from Earth. Saturn is now visible all night long. Saturn is high enough from around 11 pm for decent telescopic observation (see below). Saturn is in Libra near the head of the constellation of the Scorpion. Saturn forms a triangle with the two brightest stars of Libra, its apex pointing towards the head of the Scorpion. On the evening of the 14th Saturn is occulted by the Moon (see below).
Venus is in the morning sky, above the eastern horizon. The brightest object in the morning sky, it is now easy to see and although it is past maximum brightness, it will dominate the morning sky for some time to come.
Venus was at its furthest distance from the Sun on the 23rd of March, and now will begin to slowly sink towards the horizon. Venus is a clear gibbous Moon shape.
Mercury is lost in the twilight.
The eta Aquariids meteor shower, the debris from Halleys comet, peaked on May 6 UT . However, good rates will be seen from Australia on the 8th and 9th.
People in the suburbs should see a meteor around once every 6 minutes, and in the country about once every 3 minutes. The radiant of the shower is about five handspans up from the eastern horizon, and three handspans to the left of due east at 4 am, just above and to the left of rising Venus (see spotter chart at 5 am above).
When looking, be sure to let your eyes adjust for at least 5 minutes so your eyes can be properly adapted to the dark. Don't look directly at the radiant site, because the meteors will often start their "burn" some distance from it, but around a handspan up or to the side. Be patient, although you should see an average of a meteor every six to three minutes, a whole stretch of time can go by without a meteor, then a whole bunch turn up one after the other.
For more details and viewing hints see my eta Aquariid site.
On the evening of Wednesday 14 May Saturn is occulted by the Moon as seen from the most of Australia (and all of New Zealand).
The Moon is a very obvious signpost where look and Saturn will be the brightest object near the Moon. Start watching about half an hour before hand to get set up and familiar with the sky. The occultation is early enough so that kids can get involved. Why not have a star party in your back yard?
The occultation starts around 21:00 eastern time, 20:00 central time and 18:26 Western time. For exact time from many cities and observing hints, see my Saturn Occultation site.
The asteroids Vesta and Ceres are just below Mars, and easily visible in binoculars. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).
Two bright asteroids are now visible in binoculars in the evening sky. 1 Ceres and 4 Vesta. Vesta is now bright enough to be just visible to the unaided eye in dark sky locations.Unfortunately the waxing Moon means that it will not be visible to the unaided eye this week. While Vesta is easily seen in binoculars, you will need to watch the same patch of sky in binoculars for a couple of nights to identify it by its movement. Ceres never gets brighter than magnitude 7, but is easily in the range of 10x50 binoculars. See here for a printable black and white map suitable for seeing seeing Vesta and Ceres.
There are lots of interesting things in the sky to view with a telescope. Especially with Jupiter, Mars and Venus so prominent in the sky, and Saturn coming into view. If you don't have a telescope, now is a good time to visit one of your local astronomical societies open nights or the local planetariums.
Printable PDF maps of the Eastern sky at 10 pm AEDST, Western sky at 10 pm AEST. For further details and more information on what's up in the sky, see Southern Skywatch.
Cloud cover predictions can be found at SkippySky.
Labels: weekly sky