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    My Journey through the Astronomical Year

    Think of this as a "companion text" to this, the main web site. Not required reading, butI hope you'll find it interesting and helpful.

Events May 2014 – Four Easy Planets, Two Challenge Planets, and a Meteor Storm Watch

Click picture for larger image. (Created from a Starry Night Pro screen shot.)

Click picture for larger image. (Created from a Starry Night Pro screen shot.)

May skies have a lot to offer in 2014, for in addition to the usual parade of stars, we have four easy planets to spot, two challenging planets, and a possible “meteor storm,”  one of those once-in-a-life-time sky spectaculars -maybe! There are also a couple of special events for sky watchers in the Southern Hemisphere. Here’s the summary with  links to the details.

Mercury – the Big Tease!

Click image for larger version. (Prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Click image for larger version. (Prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Mercury is notoriously difficult to see, mainly because it demands that you know exactly when and where to look – and while you should see it with your naked eye and really quite easily, it’s much easier to find with binoculars first.  It also plays this kind of dual game with us. The first part of the game is to be so close to the Sun that it is almost always drowned in the glare of the Sun – even after sunset. (Don’t even think of looking for it with binoculars before sunset – if you accidentally catch the Sun in binoculars you will do permanent damage to your eyes.)

Start looking for Mercury 30 minutes after sunset when – from May 16 to May 28  – it will be a fist or more above the western horizon. That gets it away from the worst of the haze near the horizon and into a sky that is starting to get dark. In the next 30 minutes the sky will get darker – making it easier to see Mercury – and Mercury will get lower, making it more difficult to see.

In addition to this little game, Mercury is actually getting higher in the sky from May 16 to about May 25 – but it’s also getting dimmer – and while it’s still quite high by May 28, it is also more than a full magnitude dimmer than it was on May 16. See why I call it a tease? But you will find it, and when you do, you’ll say “that’s easy!” Yep, if you look on the right night, in the right spot, at the right time, and have an unobstructed western horizon that is also clear, Mercury is a piece of cake! 😉

Here are a couple more charts to help out – note the changes in brightness and background stars even over just a week.

mercury51914

Click image for larger view. (Prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Click image for larger view. (Prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Why is Mercury behaving this way? It’s actually getting about 25 million miles closer to us during the last two weeks of the month. However, like Venus, Mercury goes through phases which can be seen in a telescope as it approaches us because it’s also starting to go between us and the Sun. This means it changes from a disk to a crescent, so while it gets closer – which would mean brighter – there is also less of it seen by us as it moves towards becoming a crescent. So it gives us a double whammy – after the 25th it starts getting closer to the Sun and it also continues to dim.

Storm, Shower, or Drizzle – this could be really cool!

There’s some big news on the meteor front that may result in a very exciting – and ultimately unpredictable – special event in the early  morning hours of May 24th. It’s summed up nicely in the headline from the cover of the May Sky and Telescope which contains an excellent article on the subject.

‘Meteor Storm Watch – Dark with a Chance of Fireballs’

OK – that got my attention. I’ve always been fascinated by those old woodcuts depicting the incredible 1833 Leonids meteor shower. I think they’re a bit exaggerated, but that one apparently really was exceptional.

1833Leonidmeteors

This month we have a short-period comet that may produce a spectacular show for us – but not as a comet. This is Comet 209P/LINEAR and it is scheduled to cross the orbit of Earth and be totally unspectacular, even though it is quite close to us as comets go, you will need a good size telescope just to see it.

 But . . . several expert meteor observers are predicting a sudden meteor shower on the morning of May 24, and if you’re in North America above roughly latitude 40 you are at the right location to have a front row seat should this shower develop. And don’t despair if you’re in the southern US – there still could be some beautiful fire balls for you.  Some meteor experts even are predicting a possible meteor storm – something I have never seen, but would sure love to. And, of course, it may be a total fizzle, or it may be the sky spectacle of a lifetime. . . but cloudy!  You just can’t know – and that sense of anticipation and mystery is what makes these sorts of things extra fun.

Now what does a meteor shower have to do with a comet? Everything.

Meteors are pebble size or smaller generally.  When we run into one going 67,000 miles an hour – that’s our speed in orbit – they collide with our atmosphere much faster than a speeding bullet and almost always burn up before they reach the ground.

 Think about it for one moment.

Imagine something about the size of a pencil eraser 50 miles away and yet burning so brightly that you can see it. Think of whether or not you can see someone strike a match 50 miles away – or see the glow of a cigarette.  That gives you some idea of the speed these things hit with and the tremendous heat that is generated as they collide with our atmosphere.

 Now think about a Comet. Pig Pen, of Peanuts fame, is the best model I can think of for a comet – like Pigpen, a comet leaves a trail of dust behind it. That trail of dust doesn’t go away. It falls off the comet but continues to orbit the Sun. And like Pigpen’s perpetual dust cloud, it just hangs there, like droplets of water in a spacecraft – each grain of sand in its own private orbit about the Sun.

Every August 12 the Earth crosses a trail of dust left by Comet Swift Tuttle. We pass through it and we see lots of meteors, and we call this the Perseids meteor shower. If you catch it at its peak on a dark, moonless night, you may see as many as one meteor a minute.

They are called the Perseids because if you traced each meteor trail backwards, you would see they were all appearing to come from the same part of sky – a small area in the constellation of Perseus. Think of it as an open window that lets the dust of Comet Swift Tuttle tumble through.

In December there is another such shower called the Geminids. These happen every year as well – in fact, there are several more such showers, but the Perseids and the Geminids are seen as the best – most active – of the bunch.

The event this May is more complicated. I don’t know quite how they figure all this, but apparently this little, very dim, unspectacular comet has been laying down trails of dust as it goes around the Sun every five years or so. As one of the experts explains it in the May issue of Sky and Telescope, “all of the trails ejected between 1803 and 1924 cross Earth’s path on May 24.” That’s 25 trails of comet rubble all hitting at about the same time.

They know this precisely enough so that four of the experts are in agreement that this will happen right about 3 am EDT on the morning of May 24.  But they do warn the predictions could be off – generally they think this will be as good, or better, than a Perseids meteor shower. But they also grant that it may be a dud.

 The event is well-timed and placed for those of us in the northern tier of states. Those in the southern states may get a good show from especially bright meteors – but far fewer of them. The rest of the world will pretty much miss out.

 Remember, when there’s a shower, the meteor can appear anywhere in the sky, but you trace them back to their radiant – which in this case will be in the obscure – very obscure – constellation known as Camelopardalis. You all know what a Camelopardalis is, right? I’ll help you. Think giraffe. It’s in the northern sky at 3 am on May 24. To learn more about this area and see a chart, go to my post here. 

Consolation Prizes for the Southern Hemisphere

If you live south of the Equator, May always offers one of the better meteor showers of the year for you, the Eta Aquarids on May 4, 6, and 7th. A few of these may sneak north as well.

Also on the evening of May 13-14 the Moon will be near Saturn for most of us, but for folks in New Zealand and much of Australia the Moon will cross in front of the planet – what is called an occultation. This is cool to see in a telescope, but what I love is the pictures I’m sure it will generate showing Saturn near the edge of the Moon. Seeing Saturn close to the Moon, even in a picture, is a special treat that really drives home the difference in distance. Saturn, which with its ring system is so large that it would actually fill the space between us and the Moon, will look tiny next to our little moon because it is so much more distant.

On the East Coast of the US, Saturn will get within only a couple of degrees of the Moon that night – but as you move west, it gets closer – close enough to catch the two in a low power telescope field in the early morning hours.

And then there’s Uranus and Venus

I was hoping that Venus would guide binocular users right to Uranus, but no such luck. The two will be very close on the night of May 15 and 16, 2014, making it easy for small telescope users to find Uranus – but this will happen in morning twilight, and Uranus will be too faint to see against twilight background with ordinary binoculars. In fact, I think it’s going to be a challenge in a small telescope. The chart below is for an hour before sunrise – at that point Venus is only seven degrees above the eastern horizon. While it should be easily visible, assuming clear skies, spotting Uranus about 10 magnitudes fainter, won’t be easy both because it is so low and because of morning twilight.

To get both in view you need a telescope that will gather some extra light, yet also provide a 2-degree field of view, which is why I consider this a challenge – but fun to try if you enjoy mornings, as I do.

On the morning of May 25th you won’t need anything special to appreciate the Venus show – then you’ll have a beautiful crescent moon just a few degrees above Venus!

 

Look North: May is the month the North Star gets two bright flankers!

Click for larger image. (Developed from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Click here to download a printer-friendly version of this chart.

Is the North Star – Polaris – our brightest star? No! And it certainly won’t look that way this month as it shares the northern sky with two very bright stars. But, read on. Polaris is not nearly as dim as it looks!

If you have been learning your guidepost stars as they rise in the East, you won’t be surprised by the two bright stars which flank – and outshine – our pole star in May. To the northwest is Capella, a star we first met when it rose in the northeast in November. In May the northeast is dominated by a star that is almost Capella’s twin in brightness, Vega, a guidepost star we introduce in May. (See “Look East!” for more about Vega.) As a bonus we also have the twin guidepost stars, Castor and Pollux, making their way into the northern sky high above Capella. But let’s focus on Capella and Vega.

New star watchers frequently assume the North Star, Polaris, will be the brightest star in the sky. It isn’t even close! It is bright, but its fame comes because it’s very, very close to where the axis of the Earth points to the north celestial pole. So it serves anyone trying to find true north as a very good guide. But when it comes to brightness, it’s in the same league as the stars in the Big Dipper. Quite bright, but it can’t hold a candle to Capella and Vega. When you look at a list of the brightest stars, Vega is number 5 and Capella number 6. Polaris, our North Star, is number 48!

As simple as one, two, three!

That doesn’t mean Polaris is a slouch, though. First, in the eastern sky in May you meet Spica. (That’s on our chart for the east.) One distinction of Spica is that it’s as close to being magnitude 1 as any star gets. A distinction of Polaris is, as Spica defines magnitude 1, Polaris defines magnitude 2. (To be precise it’s magnitude 2.02.) Vega and Capella are extremely close to magnitude 0. Vega is 0.03 and Capella 0.08. Good luck on telling the difference! This month, if you look north 90 minutes after sunset, you may think Capella is a bit brighter actually – but if it appears that way it will be because it’s a bit higher in the sky and thus is not dimmed by having to fight its way through as much of our atmosphere as Vega is doing at the moment. So don’t try to split hairs. And yes, you’re right – they are NOT really as “simple as one, two, three” – on the magnitude scale they are as simple as zero, one, two – but that doesn’t sound as good! (Vega and Capella are zero; Spica is magnitude one, and Polaris, magnitude two.)

So which is really the brightest star of these four? Are you ready for this? Polaris! That’s right – if you put all four stars at the same distance, Polaris would appear to be the brightest. Remember, that the lower the magnitude number, the brighter the star. In absolute magnitude – the brightness we give to a star if they are all shining from the same distance  – these four stars line up this way:

  • Polaris -3.4
  • Spica -3.2
  • Capella 0.1
  • Vega 0.3

And those absolute magnitudes also reflect their order in distance from us.

  • Polaris 433 light years
  • Spica 250 light years
  • Capella 45 light years
  • Vega 25 light years

So sometimes a star is very bright because it’s – well, very bright. But sometimes it only appears to be very bright because it is very close to us. If you put our closest star into this group, our Sun – remember, it is just 8 light minutes from us – in absolute magnitude it would be by far the dimmest of this group – absolute magnitude 4.9! So while Polaris doesn’t look all that bright, it really is a very bright star! Another way to think about this is if you move our Sun out to where Polaris is, it would be about magnitude 10! You would need binoculars or a telescope to see it!

Click image for larger view of this chart. Yellow circle represents typical field of view for low power binoculars, such as 10X50.

To get an idea of the difference between Polaris and our Sun, point your binoculars towards Polaris.  You should be able to make out the “Engagement Ring” asterism – granted, a crude ring with Polaris as the diamond.  This asterism points you towards the true north celestial pole  – just avery short distance to the other side of Polaris –  and also gives you a good idea of about how far Polaris is from that pole.  Small binoculars will not show you the companion of Polaris, but to get an idea of how bright our Sun would be at the same distance, look for the star labelled 9.8 – and if you can’t see it, see if you can see the star that’s a bit brighter labelled “9.”  Don’t expect to see these instantly. Sit calmly, relax, and keep looking for at least a minute.

And here’s one more cool secret about Polaris. It has a companion that just happens to be quite dim – magnitude 9. It’s fun to see the two of them if you have a small telescope, though it’s not all that easy because Polaris is so much brighter than its companion. But if you get a chance to see Polaris and its companion in a telescope, remind yourself that the very faint companion is still a bit brighter than our Sun would look at this distance. This companion, known as Polaris B, was discovered in 1780 by William Herschel, and for many years Polaris was thought to be a binary star – that is, a system of two stars orbiting about a common center of gravity. But Polaris was holding one more surprise – it’s really a triple star.

The top image shows Polaris and its faint companion that can be seen in any decent backyard telescope. The bottom image shows the second companion, Polaris Ab, which has only been seen by using the Hubble Space Telescope.

This has been known for some time, but no one could see the third star until they turned the Hubble Space telescope on it in 2006. That’s when NASA released the first image of this third companion. The accompanying press release explained it this way:

By stretching the capabilities of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to the limit, astronomers have photographed the close companion of Polaris for the first time. They presented their findings  in a press conference at the 207th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

“The star we observed is so close to Polaris that we needed every available bit of Hubble’s resolution to see it,” said Smithsonian astronomer Nancy Evans (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics). The companion proved to be less than two-tenths of an arc second from Polaris — an incredibly tiny angle equivalent to the apparent diameter of a quarter located 19 miles away. At the system’s distance of 430 light years, that translates into a separation of about 2 billion miles.

“The brightness difference between the two stars made it even more difficult to resolve them,” stated Howard Bond of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). Polaris is a supergiant more than two thousand times brighter than the Sun, while its companion is a main-sequence star. “With Hubble, we’ve pulled the North Star’s companion out of the shadows and into the spotlight.”

So as I said, Polaris is no slouch. It not only is a very bright star, but it also has two companions, and scientists are still studying it because it is unusual in other respects. We’ll talk about those other differences another month.

Look East! Drive a Spike to Spica (pronounced Spy-ka) and two planets in May 2014!

If you followed “the arc” of the Big Dipper ‘s handle last month to find Arcturus, then you “drive a spike”  this month to find Spica –  pronounced Spy-ka – plus Mars and Saturn. It’s like taking a long, cool slide from the Dipper – and the “Arc-to-Arcturus” and “Spike-to-Spica” relationships hold true as long as these stars are in our skies – which will be right through August.

Here’s how it looks – remember: look east  starting about an hour after Sunset.  Arcturus, Spica, and Mars should all be visible as the first stars emerge, but Saturn will have to wait a bit. At the start of the month it may be too low until about two hours after sunset – but each night it rises earlier and earlier. On May 10 it is in opposition, rising as the sun sets.

Click to enlarge. (Prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Click to enlarge. (Prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Click here to download a printer-friendly version of this chart.

While the Dipper is easy to recognize, its stars are second magnitude – bright, but easily out-shone by the triangle of Arcturus, Mars, and Saturn. Even Spica, almost exactly magnitude 1, is brighter than the Dipper stars. Still, the Dipper stars will be very high in the northeast and easy to spot as it gets dark.  The brightest star in this section of the sky is Arcturus at magnitude minus 0.04. (Remember, the lower the magnitude number, the brighter the object – minus magnitude are brighter still.) The next brightest star you’ll see is over to your left, low in the northeast – Vega at magnitude 0.04. So Vega is barely on the plus side of  magnitude  zero and Arcturus is barely on the minus side, a difference that is next to impossible to detect with the eye. This year both these stars will be out shone by Mars, almost magnitude -1,  and Saturn is just a tad dimmer than Arcturus and Vega, though about a full magnitude dimmer than Mars.  Together these  five –  Mars, Arcturus, Vega, Saturn, and Spica will give you a good sense of the magnitude scale. In fact, throw in Polaris – the North Star, which is almost exactly magnitude 2 and you have a range of four magnitudes represented – quite a brilliant display.

The color contrast is exceptional here too. As these stars and planets get higher in the sky, you will notice that Mars is definitely reddish, Spica is a rich blue, while Saturn has a yellow tint.

We dealt with Arcturus last month. Saturn will be in our sky all night and as always is a treat for the small telescope user. From a naked eye perspective,  it’s fun to remember that the name “planet” means “wanderer” in Greek, but all “wanderers” are not created equal. Mars, Venus, and Mercury move  so quickly in our night sky that you can easily mark their changes over a period of a few days -certainly a week.  Saturn is much more sluggish.

Saturn changes position over the course of an entire year by roughly 12 degrees.  To see this in the sky , find Saturn. Hold your fist at arms length so Saturn is just below it. Just above your fist is where Saturn was last year. Put Saturn on top of your fist and just below your fist is where it will be next year. So how long will it take Saturn to get around the sky to roughly the same position? Well, 360/12 = about 30 years!  Now if you think a moment, the Moon takes about 30 days to get around our sky – and that means the Moon moves each day about 12  degrees –  the same apparent distance covered by Saturn each year.  All of which should tell you that it would be reasonable to assume Saturn is much farther away from us than the Moon – which, of course, it is.

None of this is rocket science, but I find it interesting to contemplate as I look up and see Saturn. I measure that distance it will travel in the next year and in my mind’s eye I stand above the Solar System and I see a long thin pie slice reaching from me to Saturn’s distance orbit and this helps me keep things in perspective – gives me a better intuitive feel for the neighborhood in which we live.  OK – for the record Saturn is moving at about 22,000 miles an hour, Mars about 54,000 miles an hour in a much shorter orbit, and we’re whipping right along close to 67,000 miles an hour – and we don’t even feel the wind in our face! Oh – and Saturn’s actual orbital period is 29.458 years.

On to this month’s new guidepost stars!

Vega and Spica are each fascinating stars, but let’s start with Vega. Shining brightly not far above the northeastern horizon as the evening begins, Vega comes about as close to defining the word “star” as you can get. In “The Hundred Greatest Stars” James Kaler calls it “the ultimate standard star” because its magnitude is about as close to zero as you can get  and its color is about as close to white as you can get. (If you’re one of those who assumed all stars are white, you’re forgiven. Individuals vary in their ability to see different colors in stars and for everyone the color differences are subtle – in fact I think of them as tints rather than colors. )

It’s hard not to be attracted to Vega when you read Leslie Peltier’s wonderful autobiography, “Starlight Nights.” Vega was central to his astronomical observing throughout his career because he began with it when he first started reading the book from which I got the idea for this web site, “The Friendly Stars” by Martha Evans Martin. Peltier wrote:

According to the descriptive text Vega, at that very hour in the month of May, would be rising in the northeastern sky. I took the open book outside, walked around to the east side of the house, glanced once more at the diagram by the light that came through the east window of the kitchen, looked up towards the northeast and there, just above the plum tree blooming by the well, was Vega. And there she had been all the springtimes of my life, circling around the pole with her five attendant stars, fairly begging for attention, and I had never seen her.

Now I knew a star! It had been incredibly simple, and all the stars to follow were equally easy.

Vega went on to be the first target of the 2-inch telescope he bought with the $18 he made by raising and picking strawberries. (This was around 1915.) And Vega became the first target for every new telescope he owned until his death in 1980. If you still don’t know a star, go out and introduce yourself to Vega early on a May evening. Even without a plum tree to look over, you can’t miss her! And once you’ve done that you’re well on your way to making the night sky your own.  (And yes, Vega is the star from which the message comes in Carl Sagan’s book/movie “Contact.”)

Vital stats for Vega, also known as Alpha Lyrae:

• Brilliance: Magnitude .03 ; a standard among stars; total radiation is that of 54 Suns.
• Distance: 25 light years
• Spectral Type: A0 Dwarf
• Position: 18h:36m:56s, +38°:47′:01″

Spica, a really bright star – honest!

Spica is truly a very bright star, but the numbers you may read for its brightness can have you pulling your hair. That’s because there are at least four common ways to express the brightness of Spica and other stars, and writers don’t always tell you which way they’re using. So let’s look at these four ways and see what they mean for Spica.

The first is the most obvious. How bright does it look to you and me from our vantage point on Earth using our eyes alone? We then assign it a brightness using the magnitude system with the lower the number, the brighter star. (For full discussion of this system, see “How bright is that star?”)

By this measure Spica is 16th on the list of brightest stars and is about as close as you can come to being exactly magnitude 1. (Officially 1.04) Though I should add here that the number really marks the midpoint of a magnitude designation – that is, any star that is in the range of magnitude .5 to magnitude 1.5 is called “magnitude 1” and so on for the other numbers on the scale.

But that scale talks about what we see. It doesn’t account for distance. Obviously if you have two 60-watt light bulbs and one is shining 6 feet away from you and the other 1,000 feet away, they are not going to look the same brightness. But if we put them both at the same distance – say 100 feet – they would look the same. So it is with stars. To compare them we pretend they all were at the same distance – in this case 10 parsecs, which is about 32.6 light years. Put our Sun at that distance and it would be magnitude 4.83. (That’s about as faint as the fainest stars we see in the Little Dipper.) We call that its absolute magnitude.

The absolute magnitude for Spica is -3.55 – not quite as bright as dazzling Venus.

Wow! That’s pretty bright compared to our Sun! Yes it is. Sun 4.83; Spica -3.55. Don’t miss the “minus” sign in front of Spica’s number! That means there’s more than eight magnitudes difference between the Sun and Spica. And that relates to the next figure you are likely to see quoted. Something that is called its luminosity. Luminosity compares the brightness of a star to the brightness of our Sun. Unfortunately, the term is often misused – or poorly defined. Thus in the Wikipedia article I just read on Spica it said that “Spica has a luminosity about 2,300 times that of the Sun.” Yes, but what does that mean? It means that if we were to put the two side by side, Spica would appear to our eyes to be 2,300 times as bright as our Sun.

That is bright! But there’s more, much more. Spica is also a very hot star – in fact one of the brightest hot stars that we see with our naked eyes. But we miss most of that brightness because most of it is being radiated in forms of energy that our eyes don’t detect. In the case of Spica, that is largely ultraviolet energy. The Wikipedia article actually listed Spica’s luminosity twice, and the second time it gave it as “13,400/1,700.”

Oh boy – now we have Spica not 2,300 times as bright as the Sun, but more than 13,000 times as bright. Now that IS bright – but is it right? Yes! So why the difference? Again, the first “luminosity” given – 2,300 times that of the Sun – is measuring only what we can see with our eyes. The second is measuring total amount of electromagnetic radiation a star radiates and is properly called the “bolometric luminosity.” And why two numbers for that last figure? 13,400/1,700? Because while Spica looks like one star to us, it is really two stars that are very close together and one is much brighter than the other. So what we see as one star is really putting out energy in the neighborhood of 15,100 times as much as our Sun.

This can get confusing, so I suggest you remember three things about Spica.

1. It defines first magnitude, having a brightness as it appears to us of 1.04.

2. It is really far brighter (magnitude -3.55), but appears dim because it is far away – about 250 light years by the most recent measurements.

3. It is very hot – appearing blue to our eyes – and because it is very hot it is actually radiating a lot more energy in wavelengths we don’t see, so it is far, far brighter than our Sun.

Spica is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, one of those constellations where you can not really connect the dots and form a picture of a virgin unless you have an over abundance of imagination. Besides, the remaining stars are relatively faint. That’s why we focus on the bright stars and sometimes those simple patterns known as “asterisms” and use them as our guides.

Vital stats for Spica, also known as Alpha Virgo:

• Brilliance: Magnitude 1.04; a close double whose combined radiation is the equal of 15,100 Suns.
• Distance: 250 light years
• Spectral Types: B1,B4 Dwarfs
• Position: 13h:25m:12s, -11°:09′:41″

Guideposts reminder

Each month you’re encouraged to learn the new “guidepost” stars rising in the east about an hour after sunset. One reason for doing this is so you can then see how they move in the following months. If you have been reading these posts for several months, you may want to relate Spica to two earlier guidepost stars with which it forms a right triangle, Arcturus and Regulus.

Once you have identified the Right Triangle, note carefully the positions of Spica and Regulus. They pretty much mark the “ecliptic.” This is the path followed by the Sun. Also, within a few degrees north or south of it, you will find the planets and the Moon. That’s well illustrated in 2014 by the presence of both Saturn and Mars, very near the ecliptic, as noted on our chart.

Arcturus and Regulus are not the only guidepost stars and asterisms in the May sky. Again, if you have been reading these posts for several months, be sure to find the stars and asterisms you found in earlier months. Early on a May evening these will include, from east to west, the following: Arcturus, Spica, Saturn, Leo’s Rump (triangle), The Sickle,  Mars, Regulus, the Beehive, Procyon, Sirius, Pollux, Castor, and in the northwest near the horizon, Capella, and the Kite. Venus will be a bright evening “star” in the west, and if you look early in the month you may catch a glimpse of Sirius and Betelgeuse before they set.

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