This month, Venus is the brightest star-like object visible in the evening sky. Pictured is the June 5, 2012 transit of Venus across the face of the sun. This event happens in pairs eight years apart that are separated from each other by 105 or 121 years. The last transit was in 2004 and the next will not happen until 2117. Image: NASA/SDO, AIA.
See a Meteor Shower, Bright Stars and Four Bright Planets This Month
BY JONATHAN TRUAX, ASTRONOMER, MUSKEGON COMMUNITY COLLEGE'S CARR-FLES PLANETARIUM
This month, become a sky watcher: see a meteor shower, enjoy views of bright stars, watch the moon move among the stars, learn some constellations, and easily locate four bright planets.
In May, Venus is the brightest star-like object visible in the evening sky. To find Venus look in the west northwest about 30 minutes to an hour after sunset. Brilliant Venus currently shines east of the bright orange star Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. The waxing crescent moon is near Venus the nights of May 16 through the 18.
This month Jupiter becomes an evening planet rising in the southeast at sunset. Locate a very bright white “star” west of the stars forming the head of Scorpius the Scorpion. The waxing moon is very near Jupiter the nights of May 26 through 28.
Rising shortly after midnight local time, locate Saturn as a bright yellow-white “star” just a little dimmer than Jupiter and east of the orange-red star Antares, the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. Saturn is found shining above the “teapot” grouping of stars forming Sagittarius the Archer. The waning gibbous moon is very close to Saturn on the nights of May 4 and 5.
The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents free of charge “Incoming!” Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., May 1 and 3, and May 22 through June 7. Tag along with robot explorers zooming past rocky asteroids and icy comets, all the way to Pluto, and discover how asteroids and comets have collided with our planet throughout history, changing the course of life on Earth. Narrated by George Takei, this 2016 program gives audiences a closer look at the scientific advances that may allow us to find and track cosmic threats before they reach planet Earth. The program will be followed by a brief tour of the current night sky, using the planetarium.
A waxing crescent moon will shine near the two stars Castor and Pollux of Gemini the twins the night of May 19. The waxing gibbous moon is near the bright star Regulus the nights of the 20th and 21st.
Mars is a brilliant dawn planet during the month of May. Locate Mars as a very bright star low in the south and east of Saturn during the predawn hours before sunrise. A last quarter moon is near the planet the mornings of May 7 and 8.
The annual Aquariid meteor shower reaches peak activity on the mornings of May 5 and 6. Sky watchers observing a couple hours before dawn can expect to see up to 40 meteors per hour radiating from the southeast on those two mornings. This shower occurs as the Earth crosses the orbit of Halley’s Comet and sweeps up dusty debris.
As darkness falls after sunset this month, locate the bright yellow star Capella of Auriga, the charioteer, high in the northwest. The winter constellation of Orion can be seen very low in the west, marked by three stars in a row, the famous “belt” of Orion, just above the horizon. Use the “belt” stars pointing toward the southeast, to locate the bright blue-white star Sirius the brightest star in the Heavens. The bright white star Procyon is high in the west.
Looking high in the north, nearly overhead, locate the “Big Dipper” formed by the stars of Ursa Major. Low on the northern horizon; find a “W” forming the stars of Cassiopeia. High in the eastern sky nearly overhead, locate Arcturus of Bootes, the brightest star of summer. Low in the southeast is the bright blue star Spica of Virgo the Virgin. Very low in the northeast the bright summer star Vega is rising.
The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents free of charge “Incoming!” Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., April 3 through May 3 and May 22 through June 7. Visit the MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium website for upcoming events and call (231) 777-0289 for sky show information. Carr-Fles Planetarium is located on the Muskegon Community College campus in Room 135. Thanks to the generosity of the Reach for the Stars campaign donors, you can now experience the all-new Carr-Fles Planetarium, featuring state-of-the-art digital projection, sound and lighting systems; all-new library of shows; and modern theater seating and domed ceiling.