Archive for May, 2011

Memorial Day Planets

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Monday morning a slender crescent moon will join a nice alignment of planets in the pre-dawn sky. About a half hour before sunrise, a 6% illuminated crescent moon will be visible low over the eastern horizon. To it’s right will be magnitude -2.2 Jupiter. Below and left of the moon will be an even brighter Venus, shining at magnitude -3.9. Between Venus and the moon will be Mars. At magnitude 1.3, binoculars may be needed to see Mars in the pre-dawn glow. Below and to the left of Venus will be magnitude -0.8 Mercury. Although, as is often the case with the innermost planet, it’s proximity to the horizon could make it difficult to see. But it’s still a good chance to get up early and see how many planets you can spot.

Also in Lyra

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The bright star Vega is probably the most famous object in the summer constellation Lyra. The second best known object in Lyra, and a favorite of backyard astronomers, would be the Ring Nebula. But I always like a good globular cluster, and M56 is a third object in Lyra you shouldn’t overlook. At magnitude 8.3, it’s not the brightest cluster around. But under dark skies it still makes for very nice viewing.

There are several options for star-hopping to M56. The one I usually use is to follow a line of three stars, nearly parallel to the “bottom” two stars of Lyra, and to take a turn east at the third star in that line. But with the other stars in the area, there may be another path that works better for you.

Storm Season on Saturn

Friday, May 20th, 2011

When springtime comes to Saturn’s northern hemisphere (something that happens about once every 30 Earth years) it’s storm season. As detailed in this [Space.com article], a giant storm is now showing some of it’s best views since beginning back in December. The good news for backyard astronomers is that Saturn is in a good position for prime time viewing, shining at magnitude 0.9 in the constellation Virgo. And some of the changing cloud features should be visible through a mid-sized or better backyard telescope.