Gateway to the Stars May 2016

Nick Jarvis

Gateway to the Stars is our recurring, monthly live show in which we point out the best sights in the sky over the course of the year. Of course, this month, we’re excitedly awaiting Mercury’s rare transit across the Sun on the morning of May 9th. (Details here, super-geeky details here.) In our show, we’ll give you a full briefing on what to expect from the transit, including a digitally-simulated view of what it should look like.

Note: Looking at the Sun can be dangerous, especially when telescopes are involved. Don’t look at the Sun unless you know exactly what you’re doing!

To see this rare sight for yourself, you can join members of the planetarium staff that morning on the roof of Salt Lake City Public Library’s Main Library to see the transit through Sun-filtered telescopes; get more details here. Or, join us outside the planetarium for a more casual “stroll-by” viewing. The Salt Lake Astronomical Society is also planning a viewing event that morning at the Bangerter Crossing Harmons (125 E 13800 S).

In this month’s show, we’ll also use our orientation in the spring sky to look at distant galaxies. During the spring, our view in the ‘up’ direction allows us to see almost straight out of our galaxy. Of course the Milky Way is a great sight, and we’ll come back to it later in the summer months, but this time of year is a great time to peer out of our galaxy into the huge expanse of inter-galactic space.

The constellations of Leo and Virgo will be sitting high in the sky. The stars that form those constellations are relatively nearby, in our own galaxy. (What’s a few hundred trillion miles between neighbors, right?) But off in the distance behind those stars is the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, which is our nearest link to the vast cobweb-like network of galaxy superclusters. These superclusters seem to be the largest structures in the universe, and they stretch literally as far as we can see.

Earth’s Location in the Universe, by Andrew Z. Colvin. Click for full-size.


Deep-sky objects, such as galaxies, are usually much too faint to be seen with unaided eyes, so we’ll be discussing the equipment and techniques that can allow you to get a glimpse of some of the largest and most distant objects out there. And as we get a sense of what we can see, we’ll also put our view into the context of what we know about Earth’s place in the cosmos on the largest scales.

And amongst those countless galaxies, and the billions or trillions of stars in each of them, we know that some fraction of those stars should have planets. If even a tiny fraction of those stars have planets, and if even a tiny fraction of those planets harbor life, then maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that when we gaze into that abyss, the abyss might actually be gazing back at us as well.

Gateway to the Stars is hosted by Nick Jarvis on Saturday, May 7th at 6:45pm in the Hansen Dome Theater. Tickets are $2, or free for planetarium members. Buy tickets here, or at the Clark Planetarium ticket desk.

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