Starry Night: Early May 2012

Posted Wednesday, May 2, 2012 in Features

Starry Night: Early May 2012

courtesy National Geographic.

Fireball streaks across Western United States

by Tristan Radtke

As reported in this story dated April 23, the west coast of the United States was treated in the morning of Sunday, April 22 to a rare, sizeable meteor strike. A sonic boom was generated from the explosion of the rock as it plunged into the atmosphere that was audible across a wide swath of eastern California and western Nevada, and NASA pegs the estimate on the meteor’s explosive potential at around 3.8 kilotons. The meteor was sizeable – about the size of a minivan – and struck the atmosphere at a low angle, providing those who were lucky enough to spot it with a glimpse of an extremely rare fireball -- one visible during sunlight. Since Sunday, according to this post at the Washington Post, bits of the meteor have begun to turn up in the region providing another rare opportunity: the chance to collect meteorites.

**The Stars**

What is interesting about the stars right now is the proximity of major stars in the evening sky to planets.  On May 2, Venus is lining up right below El Nath, one of the stars that marks the horns of Taurus,  the Bull.  Because the Sun is in Taurus right now, look for this conjunction just after sunset.  On May 3 and 4, Saturn and Spica, of the constellation Virgo the Maiden, have a close encounter, too.  On May 6 and 7, the Moon and Antares, the reddish orange giant star in Scorpius, the Scorpion, can be seen late in the evening or in the early morning hours. 

** The Planets **

• Mercury: Mercury will start May off rising just about the same time as the Sun, around 4:50 a.m., making it hard to spot at the beginning of the month. Through mid-month it will remain fairly static, rising only about five minutes earlier at 4:45 a.m.

• Venus: Venus will start the month of May setting around 10:50 p.m. By mid-May, Venus will set at 10:15 p.m.

• Mars: Mars will set at 2:45 a.m. on May 1,  and by the middle of the month it will set at 2:15 a.m.

• Jupiter: Jupiter starts off the month lost in the Sun’s glare, and remains there through May 15.

• Saturn: Saturn will set around 4:50 a.m. on May 1, and by May 15 it will set around 4:10 a.m.

• Uranus: Uranus is dim and will rise only just before sunrise on May 1, but might be visible. By mid-month, however, it will rise almost a full hour before the Sun, around 3:15 a.m.
• Neptune: On May 1, Neptune will rise at 2:45 a.m., and by May 15, it will rise at 2 a.m.

• Pluto: Pluto will rise at around 11:45 p.m. on May 1,  and by May 15 Pluto will rise at 11 p.m.

** The Moon **

The Moon begins May waxing into full phase, reaching full on May 5. It will wane to third quarter on May 12, reach new phase on May 20 and wax into the month of June, reaching first quarter on May 28.  The Moon will also play a role in an annular (ring) eclipse of the Sun, which will be visible in total only in a narrow band in parts of the western U.S. on May 20.   However, many of us should be able to see at least a partial eclipse on that date.  Unfortunately, the timing means that the eclipse will occur around sunset ... it should begin here around 8:30 p.m., but by the time the Sun is in full eclipse, it will have set in Maine.

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