May 2012 Skywatching


Solar Eclipse, December 25, 2000
Photo by Patrick Kuras

 The sun is eclipsed by the moon on May 20.  The eclipse is best seen from the Pacific Ocean, south of Russia.  This eclipse is a ring event (annular eclipse).  When the moon moves between Earth and the sun, it is near its farthest point (apogee) from Earth.  Because of its distance, the moon does not completely cover the sun and a ring of sunlight shines around the moon.  From the Chicago area, we will not see much of the eclipse.  From the United States, the ring phases of the eclipse are best  from California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

In the Chicago area the eclipse begins at 7:24 p.m. CDT as the sun approaches sunset.  The image above shows the eclipse at 7:50 p.m. CDT when it is only 2 degrees off the horizon.  Sunset follows at 7:50 p.m.  Never look at the solar eclipse without proper optical filters.  See NASA’s web site about how to observe a solar eclipse.

For observers in the western United States, the video above shows a simulation of what is visible from Page, Arizona.  Sunset occurs before the eclipse ends.  (Have fun with the “music.”)

5/15 — Full Moon
5/12 — Last Quarter
5/20 — New Moon (Solar Eclipse)
5/28 — First Quarter

Mercury is very difficult to see in the morning sky as it rises during bright twilight.  It moves behind the sun (superior conjunction) on May 27.

Venus remains an “Evening Star,” but it is rapidly moving between Earth and the sun.  At the beginning of the month, Venus sets about 5-1/2 hours after sunset.  By month’s end it sets only 70 minutes after the sun.  Each night at the same time, Venus appears lower in the western sky.  Venus is heading toward a transit, when it moves in front of the sun (transit) on June 5.

The moon appears near Venus late in the month. The chart above shows the pair along with the star Elnath on May 22.

Mars is well up in the south at sunset in front of the stars of Leo and its brightest star Regulus.  The moon is nearby twice this month.  On May 1st, the moon is lower left of Mars with Regulus nearby.  Later in the month, Mars moves toward the east compared to Regulus and the moon is to Mars’ lower right.

Jupiter is not visible in May.  It is behind the sun (conjunction) on May 13.  It reappears in the morning sky during June.

 Saturn is in the southeastern sky as the sky darkens.  It appears near the star Spica.  On May 4, the moon is nearby to assist with identification.  The constellation Corvus is nearby.  During the night, the group appears to move westward as our planet rotates.  At midnight the grouping is in the south and close to the southwest horizon around 3 a.m., setting shortly thereafter.

In the solar system view, Earth has passed Mars and Saturn. Venus moving faster will catch and pass Earth in early June. Mars, Saturn and Venus are in the evening sky.  Mercury is always near the sun.  This month it is in the morning sky.  Jupiter is on the far side of the sun (the small dot in the middle of the chart) and not visible.  Click the image to view it larger.

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