Sunday, May 10, 2009

Planets Abound: Steady untwinkling Saturn is overhead from dusk til dwan!

In the May sky, we have the ringed planet Saturn in the evening, mighty Jupiter before dawn and some shooting stars early in the month.

As far as stars are concerned, at 8PM you can easily identify the bright constellation Leo the lion just overhead?it looks like an inverted question mark. At the base of the question mark, locate the bright star Regulus, which falls directly in the Ecliptic, the imaginary path of the planets. The bright star-like object to the east of Regulus is Saturn.


To the west from Leo, the faint constellation Cancer the crab, can be seen only from a dark location. If you can identify it, don't miss the Bee-hive star cluster, best seen through a pair of binoculars. Further to the west, you may find the constellation Gemini the twins above the western horizon.

To the east of Leo, there is another faint constellation Virgo the virgin, with the bright star Spica. To the north of Virgo, is the small constellation Coma Berenices and the fuzzy Coma Cluster of stars. To the east of Coma, there is the bright star Arcturus in the constellation of Bootes the herdsman.

Don't miss the brilliant Big Dipper (Saptarshi) display in the northern skies. At the 'handle' of the Big Dipper, identify the double star Mizar-Alcor that is visible to the naked eye. Please note that the two end stars of the Big-Dipper's bowl point to the North Star (Polaris).

The Eta-Aquarid meteor shower peaked on 5 May, when the Earth passed through the centre of a dust trail left by Halley's Comet when it visited us in 1986. As bits of Halley strike the Earth's upper atmosphere, we experience a meteor shower producing up to 30 shooting-stars an hour. Look towards the south east to the constellation Aquarius (where Jupiter is now located) in the early morning hours.

Other Highlights for May:

Mercury is at inferior conjunction (almost directly in front of the Sun) on 18 May. We may just be able to glimpse it after sunset, at the very start of May, but it will soon disappear and we won't see it again this month.

Venus is rising an hour or so before the Sun and we may be able to see the brilliant 'Morning Star' very low in the east at dawn. Don't confuse it with Jupiter, which is further right and somewhat higher up.

Mars is also in the morning sky, coming up in the east a few minutes after Venus. But the Red Planet is very much fainter than Venus, and will be virtually impossible to observe this month.

Jupiter is rising in the south-east in the early hours of the morning and it is well up in the south-eastern sky at dawn. If you're familiar with the three bright stars of the 'Summer Triangle', you will find Jupiter far below them.

Saturn, in Leo, is overhead at dusk, and doesn't set until dawn. Located well to the left of the bright star Regulus, Saturn appears brighter than Regulus, and shines with a steady, untwinkling light.

Source:Nepali Times

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