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Tuesday, May 03, 2011


The Sky This Week - Thursday May 5 to Thursday May 12

The First Quarter Moon is Wednesday May 11. Venus, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter are visible lined up in the early morning and have some close encounters with each other. On May 8th Venus is close to Mercury and on May 12th Venus and Jupiter are close. The eta Aquariid meteor shower can be seen on the mornings of the 7th and 8th.

Morning sky looking east as seen from Adelaide at 6:00 am local time on Sunday May 8 showing Venus near Mercury with Jupiter and Mars. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time. Click to embiggen.

The First Quarter Moon is Wednesday May 11.

This week sees the bright planets have close encounters with each other as part of a "Planet Dance".

Bright white Venus is readily seen in the early morning sky in Pisces. Venus is "gibbous" phase, and is nearly "full". Below Venus are Mercury, Jupiter and Mars .

Mercury is readily visible in the eastern twilight not far below Venus. This and the next two weeks are the best time to see Mercury in the morning this year. As the week progresses Mercury draws closer to Venus and is at its closest on May 8th (Mothers day in Australia). The pair remain close for some time. Mars and Jupiter are below the pair, with Jupiter heading towards Venus over the week. Jupiter and Venus are at their closest on May the 12th.

You can see a videocast of the entire months planet dance here.

Evening sky on Saturday May 7 looking north as seen from Adelaide at 9:00 pm local time in South Australia showing Saturn near Spica. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time.

Inset,the telescopic view of Saturn on the 7th , you will need a fairly large telescope to see any moon other than Titan. Click to embiggen.

Saturn is rising before sunset, and is
is readily visible as the bright yellowish object not far from the bright star Spica. It is high enough for telescopic observation in the early evening.

The big storm on Saturn is now so large that it is visible in even small telescopes.

Even in small telescopes you can see Saturn's rings and it's moon Titan. Saturn was at opposition on April 4th, when Saturn was at its biggest and brightest. Despite opposition being past, Saturn will be big and beautiful for many weeks to come.

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.

Eastern horizon around 4 am local time on May 8. The red cross shows the location of the apparent origin of the Eta Aquariid meteors (the radiant). Click to embiggen.

On the mornings of Saturday May 7 and Monday May 8 the Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaks. You can see meteors before or after this time but the numbers will be less (see the meteor flux estimator below).

At the peak, people in the suburbs should see a meteor around once every 6 minutes, and in the country about once every 3 minutes, from between 4 am to 5 am on May 7 and 8. Don't forget to let your eyes adjust to the darkness for some minutes to get the best sensitivity for meteor watching.

Use the NASA meteor shower flux estimator for an estimate of what the shower will be like from your location. You need to choose 31 Eta Aquariids and remember to set the date to 6-7 or 7-8 May 2011. You can follow the progress of the shower ath the IMO live Aquariid site.

The asteroid Vesta is quite faint (magnitude 7.3), so you need binoculars to see it and may need to watch over a number of nights to make sure you are seeing it. Currently Vesta is in Capricornius, not near anything interesting, although it passes a couple of bright stars. Vesta is brightening and will be (just) visible to the unaided eye in a few months time. A chart showing Vesta's location is here.

Printable PDF maps of the Eastern sky at 10 pm ADST, Western sky at 10 pm ADST. For further details and more information on what's up in the sky, see Southern Skywatch.

Cloud cover predictions can be found at SkippySky.


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