Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy
Babe Among the Stars 8-21 May
American astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak (née Caputo) was born on 10 May, 1963. A Space Shuttle Discovery veteran, she performed EVAs (spacewalks) and logged over 300 hours in space. The mother of three is no longer an employee of NASA due to the bizarre circumstances surrounding her romantic life, including an attempt to kidnap her love rival, an Air Force Captain.
The anniversary of the passing of Douglas Adams cannot be unacknowledged here. On 11 May, 2001, the man who inspired me and countless others to write suffered a heart attack and died.
Danish astronomer Peder Horrebow was born on 14 May, 1679. He was Professor of mathematics at the University of Copenhagen and also the director of the Rundetårn, the university's observatory. A prolific writer whose subjects included parallax and navigation, he also plotted latitude. His (until then forgotten) theory was included in the Horrebow-Talcott Method published in 1833. The Horrebow crater on the Moon honours him.
On 14 May, 1973, the first US space station Skylab was launched.
Mercury-Atlas 9 was launched on 15 May, 1963. The pilot was US astronaut Colonel Leroy Gordon Cooper Jr (1927 - 2004). In 2007 some of the crematorial ashes of 200 people, including Cooper and Star Trek actor James Doohan, blasted off from New Mexico for a memorial sub-orbital flight.
Slovakian astronomer Maximilian Hell was born on 15 May, 1720. He was one of 22 children, and grew up to become director of the Vienna Observatory. In 1769 he travelled to Denmark to observe the transit of Venus. The Hell crater on the Moon is named after him, just in case you'd ever wondered.
This fortnight is exciting because three of the four so-called 'Royal' stars of ancient Persian culture form conjunctions with the Moon, including two occultations. If I were a horoscope column writer for a tabloid newspaper or a glossy magazine I'd say expect some headline news from the Royal Family but I'm not, so I'll just say: enjoy the spectacles on offer!
- 8-10 May: Meteor shower Eta Lyrids maxim (best chance to view).
- 10 May: Mercury 8° north of Aldebaran (alpha Tauri). Royal star Aldebaran is the reddish-orange star colloquially known as the 'eye of the Bull' (Taurus). During the day (from the UK) Mars will be occulted by the Moon. On the night they will have just 0.2° separation — it should be a quite stunning alignment as the young Moon will only be first quarter phase.
- 12 May: The half moon phase coincides with a 1.2° north rendezvous with Royal star Regulus (alpha Leo) which is always a pleasing sight. The Romans called this star Cor Leonis (the heart of the lion, or just simply 'lionheart').
- 13 May: Don't miss the chance to view the alignment of Saturn just 3° north of the Moon. I will be possible to view this with the naked eye, but if you have strong binoculars or, better still, a telescope, you'll be able to make out some of Saturn's features.
- 17-18 May: Epsilon Aquilids meteor shower maxim.
- 18-19 May: Northern May Ophiuchids meteor shower maxim.
- 20 May: Antares (alpha Scorpii), another Royal star, the scorpion's heart ('rival of Mars') is a red supergiant star which is a similar colour to Mars from our vantage point, is 0.2° north of the full Moon and an occultation will occur; however this will only be viewable from South Africa. This is the sort of thing that gets astrologers excited; Prince Harry's girlfriend Chelsy Davy is South African, so possibly it's they who have plans for a royal celebration 'written in the stars'!
Chat about your celestial observances at the h2g2