Babe Among The Stars: May 2014

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

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

Elusive Planet Mercury

Not many people have seen our innermost planet Mercury, due partly to its proximity to our parent star and mostly because of its faintness in comparison to that other 'morning star' Venus. However, this month we get the chance to catch Mercury as it sets during early evening among the well-known stars of Taurus 'the bull'. During the first week of May, Mercury will be shining at 1st magnitude, which will make it stand out. By the start of the second week of May, turn your binoculars on the famous star cluster The Pleiades (M45), Mercury will be within 3° south of it. During the rest of the month Mercury will fade to 2nd magnitude but that will still be bright enough to compare with the background stars of Taurus. You will have a full two hours after sunset to search, before Mercury follows the Sun below the western horizon.

Detecting Comet PANSTARRS

A diagram of Ursa Major - the Great Bear.

Comet PANSTARRS should be easy to detect during May. If you know your constellations, look for Ursa Major and the famous asterism of The Plough/The Pan/Big Dipper. (See above diagram by Gnomon.) Its most extreme star, Alkaid (eta UMa), is the tip of the bear's tail. The comet will be directly beneath during the last few days of April and will spend the whole of May passing under the length of the 'pan handle' and below the 'bowl'.

Wave to the ISS

The International Space Station orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes or so. If you're lucky enough to have clear skies and know the time it is due to pass over, you can wave to the brave souls working inside the ISS. Yes I know they can't see you, but they do appreciate the gesture. The ISS has been going over my neck of the woods (at the time of writing) every night around 9pm, which is ideal for me to pop outside into my back garden and wait for the overpass. Obviously you need to know the exact time it's going to happen as there's nothing worse than a text message from your best mate/family member: 'I've just seen the ISS!' because by then it's too late. Luckily there's a website: Spot the Station all you need to do is enter your location (nearest city) and the next 10 days'-worth of crossings, including the direction the ISS will pass, are listed for you. Simples!

Name That Planet

The IAU (International Astronomical Union) are now accepting nominations to name extrasolar planets. If you wish to call one 'Bob' after your uncle, then you'll need to read these instructions carefully.

May 2014 Diary Dates

Saturn reaches opposition (opposite the Sun) and peak visibility on 10 May. Look towards the south-east with naked eye for the constant object in Libra which will be shining at +0.1 magnitude. Train your binoculars upon it and you'll see the rings, which span 42", tilted at 22° from our vantage point. This is the best view of Saturn's ring system we have had since 2005. The first human being ever to see the Saturnian rings was Galileo Galilei through his pioneering telescope in 1610, so you'll be in good company as you gaze in awe.

  • 01: Comet PANSTARRS is 2° north of the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51)
  • 03: Asteroid 2014 HL129 closest pass to Earth (0.002 AU, that's within the orbit of the Moon)
  • 04: Asteroid 2014 HT46 closest pass to Earth (0.018 AU)
  • 04: The Moon is 5° south of Jupiter
  • 06: The Moon is at apogee (furthest away from Earth)
  • 06: Eta Aquarids meteor shower peak
  • 11: The Moon is 3° south of Mars
  • 13: Mercury and Aldebaran are within 8°
  • 14: The Moon and Saturn are separated by half a degree
  • 14: Full Moon - the Flower or Milk Moon
  • 15: Venus is 1.3° south of Uranus
  • 17: Asteroid 2010 JO33 closest pass to Earth (0.01 AU)
  • 18: The Moon is at perigee (closest to the Earth)
  • 20: Asteroid 2005 UK1 closest pass to Earth (0.09 AU)
  • 21: Asteroid 1997 WS22 closest pass to Earth (0.12 AU)
  • 21: The Moon is 5° north of Neptune
  • 23/24: Expected meteor shower from Comet LINEAR
  • 24: The Moon is 2° north of Uranus
  • 24: Asteroid 2002 JC closest pass to Earth (0.12 AU)
  • 25: The Moon is 2° north of Venus
  • 28: New Moon
  • 30: The Moon is 6° south of Mercury

  • Chat about your celestial observances at the H2G2 Astronomy Society. Comment on anything in this edition of Babe Among the Stars by starting a new conversation below.

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