Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Astronomy: The May Adirondack Night Sky

Here are some objects for the unaided eye for the month of May. All of these objects, although small, should be visible without the help of binoculars or a telescope, so long as you have clear dark skies.

Light pollution is a killer for seeing these objects with your unaided eye. To find out how dark your location is, use the Google Map Overlay of light pollution. If you are in a blue, gray or black area then you should have dark enough skies. You may still be able to see some of these objects in a green location. Snow will add more light pollution due to light reflecting off of it.

You can find help locating the night sky objects listed below by using one of the free sky charts at (scroll down to Northern Hemisphere Edition and click on the PDF for May 2012). The map shows what is in the sky in May at 10 pm for early May; 9 pm for late May.

If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better!

New note: Measuring Degrees with your hands, proportionally works for people of all ages. With your arm fully extended out:
Width of your pinky finger is 1°
Width of your ring, middle, and index finger equals 5°
Width of your fist equals 10°
Width from tip to tip of index finger and pinky finger stretched out equals 15°
Width from tip to tip of your thumb and pinky finger stretched out equals 25°

The Moon
May 5th – Full Moon visible all night.

May 12th – Last quarter moon visible from midnight into the morning.

May 20th – New moon which will bring us our darkest skies for the month of May.

May 22nd – Moon and Venus will be 5° apart after sunset in the west.

May 28th – First Quarter Moon. Also the moon and Mars will be 8° apart, with Mars above the moon.

May 31st – The moon and Saturn will be about 7° apart which you can look for around 8pm in the south. Saturn will be above the moon.

Bright Venus is still shining very bright high in the western sky after sunset. Near to the zenith at the beginning of the month, Venus won’t set until around 11:30pm. Although still high in our sky, Venus will be almost impossible to see by the end of May as it will be too close to the sun to see. This month the orbit of Venus actually brings it closer to earth as it makes a bee line towards the sun. As Venus get’s closer to the sun it’s phases are getting smaller and smaller, just as our moon has phases.

June 5th there will be a rare astronomical event, Venus will transit across the sun. I will have another post about that soon by mid May, how you can watch it and where you can go to watch it safely. This event is so rare that it won’t happen again for another 105 years.

Mars is still high in our sky after sunset in the Southwest, and sets around 2am. Find the constellation Leo and look for the rusty colored “star” within the constellation. Mars lies 6° to the east of Leo’s brightest star Regulus. With Mars’ movement in our sky it will end the month 15° to the east of Regulus. Although Mars is still the brightest object in the constellation, it has dimmed quite a bit as earth and Mars get further apart.

Already above the horizon by sunset in the Southeast and setting around 4am. Saturn is in the constellation Virgo, down and to the left of Leo, around 5° from Virgo’s brightest star Spica where it will remain all month.

Photo Above: Venus from wikipedia.

Michael Rector is an amateur astronomer with his own blog, Adirondack Astronomy.

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Although he now lives in Clinton County, amateur astronomer Michael Rector has fond memories of spending time at Great Sacandaga and West Canada Lake where the skies are dark and the Milky Way is bright.

Michael writes about astronomy on his own blog Adirondack Astronomy and is interested in getting together with other star-gazers around the region. If you are interested in getting together for an occasional star party feel free to contact him at

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