May 2013 Astronomical Highlights

Robert Bigelow

Evening Planets
Goodbye Jupiter, hello Venus! At the beginning of May, Jupiter appears as the brightest “star” low in the western evening sky. With each passing day, it will appear lower in the sky until, by month’s end it will be difficult to spot in the evening twilight. Just as Jupiter disappears from our evening sky near the end of the month, Venus will appear. These two planets (joined by the planet Mercury) will appear within a few degrees of each other from May 25-27. Binoculars may be needed to spot this trio in the twilight just after sunset. The planet Saturn is visible all month long in the eastern evening sky, about 14 degrees east of Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. As Saturn is at opposition April 28, this is the best time in 2013 to view it through a telescope.

Looking WNW just after sunset on May 26, 2013

Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower (peak – May 5 at 12:00 midnight MDT)
While comet Halley will not return until the year 2061, bits of this famous comet can be seen flashing across the sky during the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Twice each year, Earth passes close to the orbit of comet Halley. Although the comet itself is beyond the orbit of Uranus right now, tiny bits of rock and dust from Halley still orbit the Sun in the inner solar system. As Earth collides nearly head-on with this stream of comet particles, they enter our atmosphere at high speed (148,000 miles per hour). As they do so, they burn up, producing the streaks of light we call meteors. This year the meteor shower occurs four days before new moon, so moonlight will not interfere. The best viewing time is from about 1:00 a.m. to morning twilight on May 5. Observers away from city lights in the northern hemisphere can expect to see about 10 to 20 meteors per hour. While few in number, these meteors can be bright because of their high speed. No special equipment is needed as meteors are best observed with the unaided eye.

Happy skywatching this May!

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