Celestial events in the skies for the week of May 2 – 8, 2017 as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
Moonlight will turn heads skyward as our neighbor in space dances around its First Quarter phase. Any telescope—even binoculars—will show the magnificent shadows of craters and mountains along the morning light of the terminator. If you see a “shooting star” this week, it is probably a piece of the famous Comet Halley as the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower is in progress.
Tuesday, May 2
Planet Jupiter is the brightest “star” in the night sky. And you can see its fat globe and four moons like star points orbiting around it. Any telescope will do, and I’ve seen images captured with Smartphones. Those moons were discovered by Galileo 400 years ago, and two of them, Enceladus and Europa, have global oceans under their frozen surfaces, maybe harboring life. Moon Io has 200 erupting sulfur volcanoes, and Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System, bigger than planet Mercury.
Wednesday, May 3
First Quarter Moon is today. The line between day and night is the terminator, and on Earth we call this line twilight. Enjoy and be inspired by La Luna.
Thursday, May 4
Early morning risers will no doubt see that brilliant white “star” in the eastern horizon. That’s planet Venus, which dazzled us all winter in the evening sky and now has popped up in the morning. Ancient astronomers thought Venus was two different objects, and morning and evening star.
Friday, May 5
On this 1961 date in space history, America’s first spaceman, Alan Shepard, was launched on a rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida for a short 15 minute ride to the weightless environment of space and back to the Atlantic Ocean.
Saturday, May 6
In the constellation Virgo, the Moon, Jupiter and star Spica form a celestial triangle, a beautiful sight. Watch the Moon’s motion eastward at 2,100 mph as it separates itself from Jupiter and Spica throughout the night. The Moon moves its own diameter every hour, one-half a degree. So in a full day it moves 12.5 degrees eastward.
Sunday, May 7
Tonight is the peak of the Eta Aquarid Meteor shower, and you might see up to 20 meteors an hour after midnight—and a bunch of strays throughout the evening. These “shooting stars” are sand grain-sized pieces of Halley’s Comet as Earth passes through its orbit. Halley’s Comet was last seen in 1986, and will return in 2061.
Monday, May 8
High in the south are two constellations, Corvus the Crow, and Crater the Cup. Both are faint, but Corvus is recognizable as a lopsided square in dark skies. Crater has some stars that curve, and is a star pattern that is supposed to be the goblet of god Apollo.