By CLIVE JACKSON
WELCOME TO the May night sky. This is the time of year when things start to warm up a bit and the nights are noticeably less chilly and hopefully the spring rains are over and the night sky is clean and clear.
Low on the northwestern horizon, 30 minutes after sunset during the first half of the month, we have the chance to see the elusive planet Mercury. This planet is never very far from the Sun and most people have never spotted it. On the early evening of May 6, the thin crescent Moon only about 40 hours old will be just to the right (North) of Mercury. This planet is at its furthest from the Sun on May 16.
The Moon continues its journey across the night sky and on May 10, it is just to the left of Mars and on May 12 the Moon at first quarter is just below Saturn. When you look up at this close encounter in the sky, just remember that Saturn is, in fact, 4,000 times further away than the Moon and the rings of Saturn are large enough across to stretch all the way from the Earth to the Moon.
On the subject of size, if you look over to the southeastern horizon two hours after sunset you will see a bright red star low down in the constellation of Scorpius. This is the star Antares and is a red giant type. This star really is big and although through any telescope it will appear to be a tiny speck of bright light, it is, in fact, a star that is one million times the volume of our Sun and if you replaced our Sun with Antares it would swallow up the entire solar system out to the orbit of Mars.
Overhead now in the late evening is the constellation of Ursa Major the Great Bear. This star group is unmistakable with its seven bright stars. If you follow the tail of the bear down towards the southeast you will encounter a brilliant orange star called Arcturus, which the name means simply ‘Bear follower’. If you continue this line further to the right you will encounter a brilliant white star called Spica in the constellations of Virgo.
The Moon is New on May 5, First Quarter on May 12, Full on May 20 and Last Quarter on May 28.
For more information, please call Clive Jackson on 281 321 754, fax 281 324 688, email [email protected] or visit http://www.cdepa.pt