Astronomy guide to the night sky: May 2024

Astronomy

ASTRONOMY GUIDE TO THE NIGHT SKY – MAY 2024

With the Newbury Astronomical Society

The chart above shows the night sky at 22:00 on 15th May 2023

Click on the chart to enlarge and click to the side of the chart to close

The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 22:00 BST on 15th May.  West is to the right and east to the left.  The point in the sky directly overhead is known as the Zenith and is shown (in red) at the upper centre of the chart.  The curved brown line across the sky at the bottom is the Ecliptic or Zodiac.  This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky.  The brightest stars often appear to form a group or recognisable pattern; we call these ‘Constellations’.

Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion), Virgo (the Virgin) and Libra (the Scales).

The constellation of Taurus (the Bull) is just moving over the western horizon in the early evenings.

Following Taurus is the constellation of Gemini (the Twins).  The two brightest stars in Gemini are Castor and Pollux that are named after mythological twins.  To the north of Taurus is the odd pentagon shape of Auriga (the Charioteer).  Dominating Auriga is the brilliant white star Capella.  For those with a telescope there is a line of lovely open clusters in Taurus and Auriga.  These are M35 in Taurus and M36, M37 and M38 in Auriga.

To the east (left) of Gemini is the rather indistinct constellation of Cancer (the Crab).  The stars of Cancer are quite faint and can be difficult to discern especially in a light polluted sky.  It is really worth searching out Cancer using binoculars or a telescope to see the Open Cluster M44 (the Beehive Cluster).  M44 is older and further away than M45 (the Seven Sisters) so is fainter than M45 but still looks lovely.  It has a group of five brighter stars within the cluster that resemble an old pyramid shaped straw beehive with bees buzzing around.

The constellation of Leo (the Lion) follows Cancer along the Ecliptic and was the constellation of the month last month.  It does actually look a little like a lion or the Sphinx in Egypt.  Around and between Leo and the neighboring constellation of Virgo is a cluster of galaxies.  Our Milky Way galaxy and our local group of galaxies are members of this larger group of galaxies called the Virgo Cluster.  A medium sized telescope (150mm to 200mm) and a dark sky is required to see these faint objects.

To the north of Virgo is the constellation of Boötes with its bright orange coloured star called Arcturus.  The stars in Boötes form the shape of an old fashioned diamond shaped kite with Arcturus located where the string of the tail would be attached.  Arcturus is one of just a few stars that do actually appear to be coloured and is noticeably orange to the ‘naked eye’.  It is actually a star with a mass similar to our Sun but is older at 7 billion years (our Sun is 4.3 billion years old).  Arcturus is a Red Giant approaching the end of its life.

Higher in the south east is the constellation of Hercules (the Strong Man).  Hercules has a rather distinctive distorted square shape, at its centre, called the ‘Keystone’.  This is due to its resemblance to the centre stone of an arch or bridge.  The jewel of Hercules is without doubt is the Great Globular Cluster, Messier 13 (M13).  M13 can be found in the western (right) vertical imaginary line of the ‘Keystone’.  It is just visible using a good pair of 9 x 50 binoculars.  The spherical cluster, of about a million stars that can be seen using a 90mm f10 telescope but will look even more impressive when using a larger telescope.

Just moving into the eastern sky is the Summer Triangle that will begin to dominate the Summer Sky and help us to find our way around the night sky.

There are no planets visible in the evening sky this month they are currently in the daytime sky.

MERCURY rises just half an hour before the Sun so it will be in the bright morning sky and not observable this month.

VENUS will be very close to the Sun and in the bright early morning sky.  It will be moving into Superior Conjunction with the Sun on 4th June (when it will appear to pass behind the Sun from our point of view). So it will not be visible this month.

MARS will be difficult to see this month because it is on the other side of the Sun from our point of view.  It is looking small at about 4.3″ (arc-seconds).  Mars is now moving away from the Sun after its Conjunction (when it passed behind the Sun on 18th November 2023).  It will continue to move further from the Sun in the early morning sky and will eventually begin to appear in the early evening sky later this year.

JUPITER has now left the night sky to move into conjunction with the Sun on 18th May (when it will pass behind the Sun from our point of view).  It will then move into the morning sky and eventually move into the evening sky later in the year.

SATURN is in the daytime sky and not observable until later in the year when it moves into the evening sky.  Saturn will obviously appear different this year because the ring system is approaching the time when we will be looking at it side on.  Later this year we will see te ring system has noticeably closed up and the Cassini Division in the ring will be difficult to see especially for those using a smaller telescope.

URANUS will be moving into conjunction with the Sun on 18th May (when it will pass behind the Sun from our point of view).  It will then move into the morning sky and eventually move into the evening sky later this year.

NEPTUNE was in conjunction (passing behind the Sun) on 17th March.  It will rise over the eastern horizon at 03:30 but will quickly be lost in the brightening early morning sky.  So it will not be visible this month.

Direct link to full observing guide May 2024: 232408 Whats_Up_May_2024.pdf – Google Drive

To read our monthly magazine click on: 232408 May 2024.pdf – Google Drive

Link to Newbury Astronomical Society website: Home – Newbury Astronomical Society

Our next meeting will be at Stockcross Village Hall on Wednesday 15th May 2024 starting at 19:00 until 21:00.

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