May 25, 2020
Half the Winter Football
The winter sky features a huge star pattern I call the Winter Football. Now that we’re in May, we can only see half of it. Just after dark, face west and the brightest stars will start to pop out into an arc above the crescent Moon. To the left is Procyon, the Little Dog Star. Above the Moon are the Gemini twin stars, Pollux and Castor. To the right is dimmer Menkalinan near twinkly Capella. Look for them this week before they ride off into the sunset. They won’t appear again until football season.
May 26, 2020
Moon and the Twins
Face west after sunset and the waxing crescent Moon will be there smiling at you. Just to the Moon’s right will be two stars of similar brightness: Pollux (on the left) and Castor (on the right). These are the heads of the Gemini Twins and they are the last of the winter constellations saying goodbye for the season. Pollux is the brighter and oranger of the twin stars and lies about 34 light years from you. Castor is decidedly fainter and bluer and is a little farther away at about 51 light years.
May 27, 2020
Last Call for Venus
Maybe, just maybe this is your last night to see Venus as the Evening Star. Venus is heading between us and the Sun and will soon be invisible. You will need a clear view to the northwestern horizon (get up to the parks and overlooks), crystal clear skies and a sharp eye. After the last ray of sun dips from view, look just above it for a pale dot. Venus is there, somewhere. But if you don’t see it, wait a little longer and Mercury will pop out a little higher up and be a nice consolation prize.
May 28, 2020
The Moon’s Monthly Rounds
Check out the waxing Moon tonight high in the southwestern sky. It’ll be almost half-way lit. To its left will be the bright white star Regulus, the heart of Leo the Lion. Each month the Moon passes near Regulus and appears to travel through all of the 12 zodiac constellations. This is the path the Moon takes as it orbits the Earth. In another 27.3 days the Moon will be back again near Regulus and visiting the lion constellation – like clockwork.
May 29, 2020
First Quarter Moon
Tonight the Moon will look cut in half. This phase is called First Quarter since, starting from New Moon, it is one-quarter the way through its cycle of phases. This is one of the best Moon phases to see through a telescope. When you look along the line where light meets dark, called the Terminator, the play of light and shadow on the lunar surface is exquisite. A telescope reveals lofty mountain peaks and deep impacts and valleys. And my three favorite craters are lined up so picturesquely: craters named Ptolemaeus, Alphonsus, and Arzachel.
May 30, 2020
Who’s Up? Morning Planets.
This one is for the morning people! If you’re up before dawn, you can see three distant planets in the sky. Face south and you can’t miss bright Jupiter standing halfway up in the sky like a cream-colored beacon. To its left is more-distant and fainter Saturn. These two giant planets make the best views through telescopes and are only about two months away from their closest approaches to Earth. Way over to the left and getting brighter every day is the Red Planet, Mars. Check them out before breakfast this week!
May 31, 2020
The waxing gibbous Moon is hanging out in the constellation Virgo tonight after dark. Above the Moon is a cool-named star called Vindemiatrix - which is on the doorstep to an entire field of galaxies. Called the Virgo Cluster has 1300-2000 galaxies, a dozen of which can be found with a good telescope. It includes M87 the galaxy with the behemoth black hole imaged in 2019. The moonlight will wash out these galaxies tonight but look anyway and imagine a sea of Milky Ways, a galaxy of galaxies out in space!