Observatory Trip - May 21 - Not Happening!
As the weather forecast calls for overcast skies and possible rain on Tuesday, May 21, The Solar System and Beyond trip to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is POSTPONED. (We will try to reschedule for next Tuesday, May 28.) Please meet this Tuesday in the usual location in the classroom at the Cambridge Center for Adult Ed.
Thanks for your patience!
- John and Dan
Spring 2013 Astronomy Course
In many ways, we live in a “golden age” of astronomy. Every day we get new pictures from spacecraft exploring the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and Saturn – and that’s just our Solar System! Weekly, it seems, newly discovered planets around other stars are announced, and many of them are exotic and unexpected – quite unlike the neat and well-behaved worlds around our Sun; nevertheless, it is just a matter of time until Earth-like, habitable planets are discovered around other stars. Meanwhile, we’re bombarded with news of black holes, dark matter, dark energy, and the accelerating cosmos. How to make sense of it all? In this course we’ll try to get a working understanding of planetary systems, stars, galaxies, and the place of life in the Universe. One of our meetings will be at a local observatory; there we will be able to use a large telescope to learn about the sky first-hand.
No math or science background required!
Cambridge Center for Adult Education, Cambridge, MA
8 Tuesdays 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM. April 23, 2013 - June 11, 2013.
May Astronomy-Related Events in the Boston Area
Thursday, May 9th, 8:00 PM, at Phillips Auditorium, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston (Boston area’s largest and oldest astronomy club).
(Meets every 2nd thursday except August)
DASCH: Back to the Future with the Harvard Plates
Professor Joshua Grindlay
This months speaker will be Professor Joshua Grindlay from Harvard University who will be speaking to us about the DASCH: Digital Access to a Sky Century @ Harvard . This project was started over ten years ago when he encouraged Alison Doane, the curator of the Harvard plate collection, to look into the feasibility of digitizing the plate collection. Alison gave a talk to our club about the project which resulted on one of our members, Ed Los, to volunteer his time and expertise to help develop the software for this very important project that will ultimately digitize the entire Harvard plate collection. Another member, Bob Simcoe has been responsible for the development of the hardware, a very sophisticated high speed digitizing machine. This talk will be an update on the status of the project and the results that are already being derived.
Thursday, May 16th, 7:30 PM, at Phillips Auditorium, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Public Talk: "Black Hole Chaos", Belinda Wilkes and Francesca Civano (CfA).
Giant black holes at the centers of galaxies are the most powerful engines in the universe. In active galaxies they blast out jets of material at near-light-speed. And when galaxies collide, their black holes merge with a dramatic burst of gravitational waves that can kick the black hole out of the galaxy entirely. Travel to the lairs of these hungry monsters and uncover their secrets.
Public Viewing (Weather Permitting)
(Free lecture and observing every 3rd thursday except June, July, and August – and sometimes December).
Saturday, May 18th, 7:30 PM, at Clay Center, Brookline, MA
Last year (April
2012) over 2,300 people attended, the weather was fairly clear, a bit
windy, with only thin haze thickening toward late evening, and everyone
remarked about how much fun it was.
Below you will find the activities we have planned so far. Updates are made often.
4:00 - Outdoor events begin with rockets, kites, solar telescopes
5:00 - Indoor events run from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm - science exhibitors
7:00 - Indoor Kite Flying in the Hockey Rink 7-9 pm - kites that need no wind!
8:00 - Sunset, night telescopes set up, Clay Observatory opens
8:30 - Viewing of the moon, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter
10:00 - Adjourn
Free admission! Come anytime. <<See Schedule>>
Free Astronomy souvenir for first 300 children
The Clay Center holds astronomy day events in collaboration with the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston.
Register for Door Prize Tickets and reserve Show Tickets at a reduced rate: Online Registration.
* Many different telescopes will be set up for you to see and use. Safely view the sun in the daytime; see planets and stars in the evening, weather permitting.
* Demonstrations, planetarium shows, LASER Light shows, rocketry, stunt kites, hands-on educational activities for all ages. GALILEO returns.
* Meet a famous robot from the movies, have your picture taken with it!
* Door Prizes for children - register for a chance to win telescopes, meteorites, and more.
* Food Stand open from 4:30-7:30 pm.
Children under 12 must be supervised. No pets permitted.
Brookline, MA Public telescope nights most Tuesdays.
Open Night at Coit Observatory most Wednesdays.
Museum of Science
Stargazing at Guilliland Observatory (on garage roof) Friday nights 8:30 PM – 10:00 PM.
The Sky Report for the Month of May 2013
There is an annular solar eclipse on May 9/10, visible along a path that begins in northern Australia and stretches across the South Pacific.
There is a penumbral lunar eclipse on May 24/25, but the dimming of the Moon will be so slight as to be virtually undetectable.
Phases of the Moon:
Last Quarter Moon
7:14 AM EDT
8:28 PM EDT
12:35 AM EDT
12:25 AM EDT
Last Quarter Moon
2:58 PM EDT
The Moon & Planets:
The Moon & Planets:
On May 10, a thin crescent Moon lies about 2° (~4 Moon-widths) to the lower left of Venus. On the 12th, the waxing crescent Moon lies about 5.5° to the left of Jupiter. On the 23rd, the nearly full Moon passes about 5° below Saturn.
Evening Planets (after sunset):
Mercury, in WNW
Venus, in WNW
Jupiter, in W
Saturn, in SE
Visible At Midnight:
Saturn, in S
Morning Planets (before sunrise):
Saturn, in W
Neptune, in SE
Uranus, in E
Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) may still be visible through binoculars or a small telescope; it will be fading from magnitude 7 to 9 during the month, but the comet will be circumpolar for observers in the Northern Hemisphere. On May 13th, it passes less than half a degree from 3rd-magnitude Gamma Cephei. It will spend most of the month in Cepheus, but will pass into Draco on the 26th.
The Eta Aquarid meteors peak on the night of May 5/6. The Moon will not interfere. Expect up to 20 meteors per hour as seen from a dark-sky location.
Mercury goes through superior conjunction – passing “behind” the Sun - on May 11, and becomes visible in the evening sky shortly thereafter. On the 19th, it sets an hour after the Sun; in a telescope, it appears as a disk 5.4 arc-seconds in diameter and 90% illuminated. By month’s end, it is setting an hour and three-quarters after sunset; its angular diameter is then 6.4” across and 65% lit up. But the most interesting aspect of Mercury this month is its close approach to its fellow planets Venus and Jupiter; see our “What’s New” page for more.
Venus is starting to climb higher in the west after sunset. It sets about 45 minutes after the Sun on the 1st and an hour and 20 minutes after sunset on the 31st. The planet remains at magnitude -3.9 and in a “full Venus” phase throughout; its diameter increases only slightly from 9.8” to 10.2” in diameter. See below for its conjunction with other evening planets.
Jupiter becomes visible shortly after sunset; it sets three hours after the Sun on May 1st, but just an hour after sunset by the 31st. During May, Jupiter remains in Taurus. The planet’s distance from us increases from 546 million to 567 million miles, and it dims accordingly from magnitude -2.0 to -1.9. A telescope shows a disk with an equatorial diameter of 34 arc-seconds on the 1st and 32” on the 31st. See its conjunctions below.
Saturn, had just reached opposition on April 27/28, when it was at its nearest, brightest, and largest this year. However, during May, the planet is only marginally more distant; its distance increases from 1.319 billion kilometers (820 million miles) to 1.344 billion km. (835 million miles) from Earth. It dims slightly from magnitude +0.1 to +0.3. At the beginning of May its globe appears 18.8” across, while it visible rings are 42.7” wide; on the 31st, the disk is 18.5” across, while the rings span 42.0” across. The ring system is inclined toward our line of sight by about 18°. On the 12th, the planet moves from Libra into Virgo. Spica lies about 14° to its west.
By the end of May, Neptune rises four hours before the Sun. The magnitude-7.9 planet lies in Aquarius. In a telescope, it appears as a bluish disk just 2.3’ across.
Uranus, in Pisces, rises two and a half hours before sunrise at month’s end. Due to its low altitude and faintness (magnitude 5.9, it remains a challenging target. If you do catch it in a telescope, you’ll see a green-grey disk 3.4’ in diameter.
Mars remains too close to the Sun to be visible this month. Radio interference from the Sun, however, will be markedly reduced; accordingly, the precautionary communication blackout affecting the spacecraft at Mars – Curiosity, Opportunity, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, and Mars Express – will be lifted.
Pluto, in Sagittarius, is highest around 4 AM. Even then, as seen from mid-Northern latitudes, it gets no higher than about 30° above the horizon.
The dwarf planet/Main-Belt-asteroid 1 Ceres is in Gemini; on May 26th, it passes within a quarter degree of the 4th-magnitude star Iota Geminorum. The asteroid itself is of about magnitude 8.8.
A Planetary Trio
Just after sunset on May 19th, three planets – Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter form a rough line, with Mercury the lowest; Venus lies 4° to the east (upper left) of Mercury, and Jupiter in turn about 9° to the east (upper left) of Venus. Over the next few days, Mercury continues to climb higher; it passes 1.3° to the upper right of Venus on the 24th. Two days later, Mercury lies just 2.5° to the upper right of Jupiter. From the 24th to the 29th, Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter form a “trio” (defined as three objects that fit into a circle 5° across or smaller). The three planets are the closest together on the 26th; on this evening, the three planets fit into a circle just two and a half degrees across. On the 28th, Venus and Jupiter are only 1 degree apart.
A Planetary Trio: Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter at their closest.
May 26th, 8:39 PM EDT
(One-half hour after sunset)
After the 29th, the trio
disperses. By May 31st, Venus is 3.5° to the upper
left of Jupiter, and Mercury is 4° to the upper left of Mercury.
After the 29th, the trio disperses. By May 31st, Venus is 3.5° to the upper left of Jupiter, and Mercury is 4° to the upper left of Mercury.
Close-up of A Planetary Trio
(One-half hour after sunset)
(Click to enlarge)*
The Correct Relative Sizes (though NOT distances) and Phase Angles of Jupiter, Venus, Mercury.
May 26th, 8:39 PM EDT
(One-half hour after sunset)..
May 2013 Star Chart
9:00 PM EDT on May 15th, 2013.
Looking at Zenith, South at Bottom.
(Click to enlarge)*
The zodiacal constellation Leo is high overhead on May nights. It is an ancient constellation, dating back to Mesopotamia as much as 6000 years ago. At the time of the Greeks, it was associated with the lion killed by Hercules as one of his 12 labors. Leo’s brightest star, Regulus, shines at magnitude +1.35, and is the 21st brightest star in Earth’s skies. It is often represented as the base of “The Sickle” of Leo, or, alternatively, the Lion’s heart. The constellation’s second-brightest star, magnitude 2.1 Denebola, represents the tail of the Lion. Leo is also home to the spiral galaxies M65, M66, M95, M96, as well as the elliptical galaxy M105.