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This website has been created by and is supported by a group of Boston, MA - area amateur astronomers. It is intended to be a convenient site to access news and information about astronomy and space-related activities of interest to the community and the public.



          May Astronomy-Related Events in the Boston Area  



Thursday, May 14th, 2016, from 8:00 PM - 10:00 PM

Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Topic and Speaker: "Minor Planet Center Operations", Michael Rudenko

Michael Rudenko has worked at the MPC since 2009 as an IT Specialist. He created the MPC's public facing relational database, web interface and related pages. He is presently engaged in modernizing the MPC observation processing, orbit computation and related operations. He received an SB in Mathematics from MIT in 1977, and has been engaged in computer programming ever since. During the 1980s he undertook a visual comet hunting project and discovered three comets with the aid of a 6-inch refractor.
The Minor Planet Center (MPC) is the single worldwide location for receipt and distribution of positional measurements of minor planets, comets and outer irregular natural satellites of the major planets. The MPC is responsible for the identification, designation and orbit computation for all of these objects.  This talk will describe some of the MPC operations and services.



Thursday, May 21st, 2016 at 7:30 PM

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA

CfA Author's Night 

Topic and Speaker: "The New Comos: Answering Astronomy's Big Questions", David Eicher, Astronomy Magazine

Over the past decade, astronomers have answered - or are closing in on the answers to - some of the biggest questions about the universe. David Eicher presents a spectacular exploration of the cosmos that provides you with a balanced and precise view of the latest discoveries. Among the "big science" topics covered will be dark energy, dark matter, water on Mars, the planethood of Pluto, the barred-spiral structure of the Milky Way, and the ubiquitous nature of black holes. There will be a book sale and signing at this event.




Plus (ongoing):  


Tuesdays (beginning March 29, 2016, 9:00 PM)

Public Telescope Night 

Clay Center Observatory

Dexter Southfield School

Brookline, MA

617-454-2795 (appoint. required)



Boston University

Boston, MA.
Open Night at Coit Observatory most Wednesdays 8:30 PM - 9:30 PM. 



Thursdays (every 3rd Thursday of month)

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA


Fridays (every Friday, 8:30 PM)

Astronomy After Hours

Museum of Science, Boston, MA




The Sky Report for the Month of May 2016


Current Night Sky: At A Glance


            Phases of the Moon:


New Moon

May 6

       3:30 PM EDT

First Quarter

May 13

1:02 PM EDT

Full Moon

May 21

5:14 PM EDT

Last Quarter Moon

May 29

8:12 AM EDT



The Moon & Planets:



Planet Visibility:


In Evening (after sunset):

    Jupiter, in S

    Mars, in SE 


 At Midnight:

    Jupiter, in W

    Mars, in S

    Saturn, in S


 In Morning (before sunrise):

  •     Mars, in SW

  •     Saturn, in SW

  •     Neptune, in SE 

  •     Uranus, in E

        Mercury, in NE 






      •     Comet 252P/LINEAR, after undergoing an unexpected brightening several weeks ago, is climbing higher into northern skies; on the 6th – the night of the New Moon - it is in Ophiuchus, and is highest up about 3 AM, local time. On the 16th, it crosses the boundary into Hercules. Unfortunately, it is dimming rapidly, and may require an 8” or larger telescope to see.


      •      The Eta Aquariid meteors peak on the nights of May 5th – 6th. Like most meteor displays, it is best viewed in the hours between midnight and dawn. With the Moon completely out of the night sky, conditions could hardly be more ideal. Under a dark sky site in the Northern Hemisphere, expect to see about 10 – 20 meteors per hour; viewers south of the Equator may see twice this number.





    The waxing gibbous Moon passes just 2° - or four “Moon-widths” – below Jupiter, as both set in the west after midnight. (Here, the Moon’s size has been exaggerated for the sake of clarity.) Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, lies to the lower right of the pair, while other members of the constellation lie scattered about.

    (May 15, 2016, 1:00 AM EDT).





    The Full Moon, Mars, Saturn, and the star Antares form a beautiful quadrilateral pattern as they rise in the southeast. Both Mars and Antares are noticeably red, especially when compared against the white light from Saturn; in fact, the name “Antares” comes from “anti-Ares”, or “rival of Ares” (the Greek name for Mars).

     (May 21, 2016, 10:00 PM EDT).





    On the 30th, Mars makes its closest approach to Earth, and appears larger and brighter than at any time in the last 10½ years. (Mars actually reaches opposition - with Earth on a direct Sun-Mars line - on the 22nd; because of Mars’s considerably elliptical orbit, however, closest approach can occur several days later.) At its nearest this year, Mars is about 46.8 million miles away.

    (May 30, 2016, 21:34 UT)




              The Great American Eclipse 


    Many of us are familiar with the phenomena of eclipses, and may have even seen one or more.  There are two basic types (as well as some combinations of the two).

    One type is a lunar eclipse – in which the Earth gets between the Sun and the Moon. The Moon passes through Earth’s shadow cone, and in the process, its disk assumes a grey or black tint. It is not uncommon for the Moon to appear blood-red, as a result of sunlight being refracted around the edge of the Earth by its atmosphere. A lunar eclipse can be visible to observers in an entire hemisphere of Earth at the same time – and, despite some misconceptions, is totally safe to look at!


    A solar eclipse, on the other hand, occurs when the Moon comes between Earth and the Sun. But the shadow cone cast by the Moon is much smaller than that cast by Earth’s; it barely reaches the surface of Earth, and casts its shadow over just a small area at any one time. Since both the Earth and the Moon are in motion, the point where the Moon’s shadow hits moves rapidly over the surface of Earth. The net effect is that the eclipse path may be thousands of miles long but, at most, only 166 miles wide.   


    Eclipses as such are not rare; every year has a minimum of 2 lunar and 2 solar eclipses. The maximum possible in a given year is seven – five solar and two lunar, or two solar and five lunar. But because of the narrow path of totality in a solar eclipse, they are rare in any given area. Indeed, most seem to have a perverse habit of occurring in over remote regions of the Earth or over the ocean. Solar eclipse “chasers” will often travel thousands of miles to enjoy the few minutes of totality.





        A total solar eclipse, with the Sun’s corona extending from beyond the edge of the Moon.


    They have reason to be so motivated. A total solar eclipse is one of nature’s grandest phenomena. As the Moon completely covers the Sun, it gets dark, the temperature drops, and the Sun’s faint pearly corona, or outer atmosphere, becomes visible. And this only happens within the path of totality. Viewers outside the path will, at best, be able to see a partial eclipse. None of the subtle and majestic phenomena caused by the eclipse will become visible.  And, in this case, viewing an eclipse can be dangerous without proper eye protection.





    So total solar eclipses are rare and can occur in remote regions of the world. But when can we see one?


    It so happens that a spectacular total solar eclipse will occur in the United States on Monday, August 21, 2017. The path of totality will cross over the entire United States, moving from the coast of Oregon and through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina, to finish on the shore of South Carolina. 








    The path of the totality during the total solar eclipse of August 17, 2017.


    Millions of people will be within driving or flying range of totality. Of course, everything depends upon the weather. Any cloud cover will hinder the view of the eclipsed Sun. While no one can tell with absolute certainty what the weather will turn out to be, a look at past meteorological records can help us plan our strategy. It seems that the best prospects of clear skies will occur in eastern Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming.


    This “Great American Eclipse” is now just over 16 months away. Given how the demand for lodging, transportation, and viewing spaces is likely to be in extreme demand as the eclipse day approaches, it may not be too soon to plan your eclipse adventure.



    A Schedule of Events - May 2016
    May 2 Mon. 7:00 AM EDT Moon 1.7° N of Neptune
    May 4 Wed. 11:00 PM EDT Moon 2° S of Uranus
    May 5 Thur. 4:00 PM EDT Eta Aquarid meteors peak
    May 6 Fri. 12:13 AM EDT Moon @ perigee (357,828 km / 222,344 mi)
    May 6 Fri. 3:30 PM EDT New Moon
    May 7 Sat. 12:31 AM EDT - 1:42 AM EDT Double shadow transit on Jupiter (Callisto, Io)
    May 9 Mon. 7:13:32 AM EDT Mercury transit First Contact
    May 9 Mon. 7:16:44 AM EDT Mercury transit - Second Contact
    May 9 Mon 10:57:49 PM EDT Mercury closest to center of Sun's disk
    May 9 Mon. 11:00 AM EDT Mercury @ inferior conjunction
    May 9 Mon. 2:38:08 PM EDT Mercury transit - Third Contact
    May 9 Mon. 2:41:19 PM EDT Mercury transit - Fourth Contact
    May 13 Fri. 1:02 PM EDT First Quarter Moon
    May 13 Fri. 3:00 PM EDT Sun enters Taurus
    May 14 Sat.   Astronomy Day
    May 15 Sun. 6:00 AM EDT Moon 2° S of Jupiter
    May 18 Wed. 6:06 PM EDT Moon @ apogee (405,933 km / 252,235 mi)
    May 21 Sat. 4:00 PM EDT Moon 6° N of Mars
    May 21 Sat. 5:14 PM EDT Full Moon ("Full Flower Moon")
    May 22 Sun. 7:17 AM EDT Mars @ opposition
    May 22 Sun. 6:00 PM EDT Moon 3° N of Saturn
    May 23 Mon. 3:00 PM EDT Asteroid 4 Vesta @ solar conjunction
    May 29 Sun. 8:12 AM EDT Last Quarter Moon
    May 29 Sun. 3:00 PM EDT Moon 1.4° N of Neptune
    May 30 Mon. 5:34 PM EDT Mars nearest Earth (75,300,000 km / 46,800,000 mi); mag. - 2.1; dia: 18.6")


       (bold = cool or important)




    An Overview of Major 2016 Astronomical Events

    Jan. 2 Sat. 6:00 PM EST Earth @ perihelion (0.98330 AU)
    Jan. 3 Sun. 7:13 AM EST Latest sunrise
    Jan. 4 Mon. 3:00 AM EST Quadrantid meteors
    Jan. 19 Tue. 9:35 PM EST - 10:49 PM Moon occults Aldebaran
    Feb. 6 Sat. 0:00 (midnight) EST Mercury @ greatest western elongation (26° W); Morning "Star
    Mar. 8 Tue. 5:00 AM EST Jupiter @ opposition
    Mar. 9     Total Solar Eclipse (Pacific, SE Asia)
    Mar. 13   2:00 AM EST Daylight Saving Time begins
    Mar. 14     ESA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter / Schiaparelli EDL launch
    Mar. 19   00:30 AM EST March Equinox
    Mar. 23     Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
    Apr. 10   6:52 PM EDT - 7:56 PM EDT Moon occults Aldebaran (daytime, late afternoon)
    Apr. 18   8:00 AM EDT Mercury @ greatest eastern elongation (20° W); Evening "Star
    May 5   4:00 PM EDT Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaks
    May 9     Transit of Mercury
    May 22   7:00 AM EDT Mars @ opposition
    May 30     Mars @ closest approach
    June 3   2:00 AM EDT Saturn @ opposition
    June 4   3:41 PM EDT - 4:47 PM EDT Moon occults Aldebaran (daytime, close to Sun)
    June 5   5:00 AM  EDT Mercury @ greatest western elongation (24° W); Morning "Star
    June 6     Venus @ superior conjunction
    June 20   6:00 PM EDT June Solstice
    July 4     Earth @ aphelion (1.01675 AU)
    July 5     Juno Jupiter orbit insertion
    July 7     Pluto @ opposition
    July 23   12:07 AM EDT - 1:01 AM EDT Moon occults Neptune
    July 29   6:21 AM EDT - 7:03 AM EDT Moon occults Aldebaran (daytime)
    Aug. 12   11:30 AM EDT Perseid meteors peak (ZHR 150), favoring central Pacific
    Aug. 16   2:00 PM EDT Mercury @ greatest eastern elongation (27° W); Evening "Star
    Aug. 27   6:00 PM EDT Venus passes 4' from Jupiter (closest naked-eye planet conjunction)
    Sept. 1   5:00 AM EDT Annular Solar Eclipse (Sothern Africa, Indian Ocean)
    Sept. 2     Neptune @ opposition
    Sept. 3     OSIRIS-Rex sample-return mission to asteroid Bennu launched
    Sept. 22   10:21 AM EDT September Equinox
    Sept. 28     Mercury @ greatest western elongation (18° W); Morning "Star
    Oct. 15     Uranus @ opposition
    Oct. 16     ExoMars TGO/Schiaparelli separation
    Oct. 19     ExoMars TGO Mars orbit insertion
    Oct. 19     ExoMars Schiaparelli Mars landing
    Oct. 19   1:50 AM EDT - 2:54 PM EDT Moon occults Aldebaran
    Oct. 21     Ceres @ opposition
    Nov. 6   2:00 AM EDT Daylight Saving Time ends
    Nov. 17   6:00 AM EST Leonid meteroids
    Dec. 5     Mercury @ greatest eastern elongation (21° W); Evening "Star
    Dec. 6   11:18 PM EST - 12:32 AM EST Moon occults Neptune
    Dec. 13   7:00 PM EST Geminid meteors
    Dec. 21   5:44 AM EST December Solstice
    Dec. 22   4:00 AM EST Ursid meteors




    May 15, 2016




    May 15, 2016, 10:00 PM EDT