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Our Friendly Skies

May 04, 2007

By ROD MARTIN, Planetarium Resource Teacher and ANDY SMETZER, Tristate Astronomers

Visible Evening Planets



VENUS is high in the west.

SATURN is high in the southwest in Leo.

JUPITER rises in the mid-evening and is high in the south at sunrise.

MERCURY appears low in the west late in May

Visible Morning Planets



MARS is low in the eastern twilight.

Planets are starting to crowd the evening sky. Venus, Saturn, Jupiter and later Mercury become visible. When the Moon is nearby, the brightest solar system objects (except the sun) are in the same part of the sky.

Venus is by far the brightest planet. This month, Venus continues its travels through the constellations Taurus the Bull and the Gemini Twins. It begins May between the Bull's horns, and Venus ends the month lined up with Castor and Pollux in Gemini. The thin crescent moon is nearby on the 19th, making a beautiful sight.

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Saturn is high in the southwest in front of the nose of Leo the Lion. The head of the Lion is shaped like a backwards question mark with the bright star Regulus at its base. Saturn and Regulus make a fine couple, with Saturn slightly brighter and farther west (to the right). The crescent moon joins Saturn and Regulus on May 22.

Jupiter is trying to become an evening planet. It rises around 11 p.m. early in May and before 9 p.m. by month's end. At -2.5 magnitude, it is brighter than anything in the night sky except the moon and Venus. It is in the constellation Ophiuchus above the star Aldebaran in Scorpius. Binoculars may display the four larger satellites of the more than 60 which orbit the planet.

Mercury reaches superior conjunction on May 3. That is when it lines up with the sun, but on the other side. It will emerge into the evening sky during the latter part of May. Look about 10 degrees high about a half hour after sunset at the end of the month.

Mars is low and faint. It rises at the beginning of morning twilight. Mars passes from the constellation Aquarius into Pisces during May. It is brightening and becoming easier to see.

The eta Aquarid meteors peak on the morning of May 6 before twilight. The debris that produces these meteors came from Comet Halley. The shower will be poor this year because of the bright moon.

Sun and moon



This month the Moon was full on May 2, reaches last quarter on May 10, new on May 16 and first quarter on May 23. Another full moon occurs very late on May 31. When there are two full moons in the same month, the second is often called the "Blue Moon." Calendars will probably have the second full moon listed as June 1 because astronomers use Universal Time for most data. That is the standard time for the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.

So, officially, the Blue Moon is in June, but locally according to our clocks, it occurs in May. Take your choice!

On May 1, the sun rose at 6:12 a.m. and set at 8:04 p.m., for daylight of 13 hours and 52 minutes. By May 31, the sun rises at 5:45 a.m. and sets at 8:31 p.m., and has daylight of 14 hours and 46 minutes.

Brish Planetarium/Tristate Astronomers



Public planetarium programs have concluded for the current school year. They will resume in the fall with the Hubble Telescope Program, which was one of the most popular ones presented by the planetarium. The schedule will be released later in the summer.

Go to antpod.com to download or listen to "Skylights," the planetarium podcast. Provided by Antietam Cable and The Herald-Mail, monthly sky tours hosted by Rod Martin of the Brish Planetarium can be downloaded to help you find your way across the night sky.

For more information about the planetarium and Tristate Astronomers, visit their web sites through www.tristateastronomers.org and navigate to the planetarium's page. To contact the planetarium, send e-mails to martirod@wcboe.k12.md.us.

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