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Tonight’s Sky: May 2013

Your guide to constellations, deep-sky objects, planets and events, Tonight’s Sky 

Highlights of the May Sky

Evening Planets

As night falls, look for Jupiter shining in the west. The best views of Jupiter will come early in the month, when it is highest in the sky.

In the closing days of May, Mercury and brilliant Venus will join Jupiter low in the west. A telescope will provide better views of the planets.

Saturn graces the south-eastern sky just after sunset. The ringed planet will remain up for most of the night, moving into the western sky before sunrise.

Constellations and Deep-Sky Objects

Looking toward the south, we’ve turned away from the crowded center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Thus we see farther into the universe.

The large constellation Virgo fills the southern sky in the late evening. One of the zodiacal constellations of ancient times, Virgo honours the life-giving virtues of women.

Using a pair of binoculars, visit the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. These tiny smudges of light are galaxies, far away from our own Milky Way, each aglow with the light of billions of stars.

The Sombrero Galaxy, M104, lies in the southern part of Virgo. Its dark dust lane makes it look like a large hat, hence its name.

Two smaller constellations lie above Virgo. Coma Berenices honours a queen who gave her long hair to the gods to ensure her husband’s safe return from war. M64, a spiral galaxy, can be found tangled in Berenice’s Hair.

Canes Venatici represents the hunting dogs of the gods. The brightest star in Canes Venatici is Cor Caroli, the Heart of Charles, named for Charles 1 of England.

M51, in Canes Venatici, is known as the Whirlpool Galaxy. It is one of the most beautiful face-on spirals in the sky.

Events

The annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower returns this month. During the peak, on the night of May 5th to 6th, expect to see up to 10 meteors per hour. Look for them shooting from the east after midnight.

On May 10th, sky watchers in northern Australia and the central Pacific Ocean will be treated to an annular solar eclipse.

On May 24th, a penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible to observers in most of North America, South America, western Europe, and western Africa.

The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard.

Credits

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute, Office of Public Outreach
Starfield images created with Stellarium
Mythological constellation forms from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive
Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory
Jupiter image courtesy of Todd Gross
Mercury and Venus images courtesy of Mario Weigand
Saturn image courtesy of John Endreson
Virgo Cluster image based on image courtesy of NOAO/AURA/NSF
M104, M64, and M51 images courtesy of the MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network
Annular solar eclipse images courtesy of Larry Hubble and Leo Heppner
Narrated by Nancy Calo
Music written by Jonn Serrie
Production: Lucy Albert, Greg Bacon, John Bintz, John Godfrey, and Vanessa Thomas

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