(Link to What's Up April 2018)

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The chart above shows the whole night sky as it appears on 15th May at 22:00 (10 o'clock) British Summer Time (BST). As Earth orbits the Sun and we look out into space each night the stars will appear to have moved across the sky by a small amount. Every month Earth moves one twelfth of its circuit around the Sun, this amounts to 30 degrees each month. There are about 30 days in each month so each night the stars appear to move about 1 degree. The sky will therefore appear the same as shown on the chart above at 11 o'clock BST at the beginning of the month and at 9 o'clock BST at the end of the month. The stars also appear to move 15º (360º divided by 24) each hour from east to west, due to the Earth rotating once every 24 hours.

The centre of the chart will be the position in the sky directly overhead, marked on the chart as the Zenith (in red). First we need to find some familiar objects so we can get our bearings. The Pole Star Polaris can be easily found by first finding the familiar shape of the Great Bear ‘Ursa Major' that is also sometimes called the Plough or even the Big Dipper by the Americans. Ursa Major is visible throughout the year from Britain and is always quite easy to find. This month it is almost directly overhead. Look for the distinctive saucepan shape, four stars forming the bowl and three stars forming the handle. Follow an imaginary line, up from the two stars in the bowl furthest from the handle. These will point the way to Polaris which will be to the north of overhead at about 50º above the northern horizon. Polaris is the only moderately bright star in a fairly empty patch of sky. When you have found Polaris turn completely around and you will be facing south. To use this chart, position yourself looking south and hold the chart above your eyes.

Planets observable in the evening sky: Venus and Jupiter. Mars and Saturn will be in the early morning sky.



The Southern Night Sky during May 2018 at 22:00 BST

The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 22:00 BST on 15th May. West is to the right and east to the left. The point in the sky directly overhead is known as the Zenith. It is shown (marked in red) at the upper centre of the chart. The curved brown line across the sky at the bottom is the Ecliptic or Zodiac. This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky. The constellations through which the ecliptic passes are known as the constellations of the ‘Zodiac'.

Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are: Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion), Virgo (the Virgin), Libra (the Scales) and Sagittarius (the Goat) just appearing over the South Eastern horizon.

This month the planet Jupiter is in the constellation of Libra and is very easy to find later in the evening.

Ursa Major is almost directly overhead as can be seen by the location of the ‘Zenith' (the point directly overhead) marked on the chart above. It is one of the best known and easily recognised constellations . It is also known as ‘the Plough' or the ‘Big Dipper' to the Americans. It does actually resemble a saucepan more than anything else and is very easily recognised as a saucepan in the sky.

Ursa Major is very easy to find and because it is ‘circumpolar' (never sets below the horizon) it is always somewhere in our night sky. As it is so easy to find it is a good place to start exploring the night sky. The two stars of the ‘pan' opposite the ‘saucepan handle' (known as the Pointers) can be used to find Polaris the Pole Star (or North Star) in Ursa Minor. To find Polaris just follow the ‘Pointers' up out of the pan. By following an imaginary line off the end of the saucepan handle will show the way to Arctaurus the bright red star (it looks more orange) in Bo?tes.

The constellation of Bo?tes does not have anything interesting to search out but the bright star Arctaurus is very beautiful. It is a Red Giant and appears distinctly orange to the naked eye and even more so when using binoculars or a telescope. Bo?tes is also a good point to use to find other constellations like Hercules. Hercules is to the east (left) of Bo?tes and is the constellation of the month.

By following the ‘Pointers' in Ursa Major down they point the way to the constellation of Leo (the Lion). The stick figure of Leo does actually look a little like a lion. The bright star Regulus in Leo sits right on the Ecliptic and is often seen close to the Moon and sometimes the planets as they appear to move along the ecliptic.

To the west (right) of Leo is the faint and rather indistinct constellation of Cancer (the Crab). The asterism (shape) of Cancer looks quite uninteresting. However the Open Cluster Messier 44 (M44) ‘Praesepe' or the ‘Beehive Cluster' looks beautiful using binoculars and looks like a swarm of bees around an old style straw bee hive.

The constellation of Gemini (the Twins) and the twin stars Pollux and Castor are easy to find in the west along the Ecliptic past Cancer. There is a lovely Messier Open Cluster M35 in Gemini just off the end of the line of stars emanating from the bright star Castor. Castor is a double star when seen through a telescope.

To the east of Leo is the quite indistinct constellation of Virgo. It does have one fairly bright star called Spica. It is classified as a Class B1 Giant but is in fact a very close binary star. The two stars are very close and orbit the common centre of gravity every four Earth days. Their gravity pulling on each other has made them ‘egg' shaped.


The constellation of Hercules (the Strong Man)

The constellation of Hercules is moving into view in the late evening sky from the east see the chart above. Hercules is not a prominent constellation especially when viewed from a light polluted area but it is worth searching out particularity if a telescope is available. It can be located by following an imaginary line from the ‘pan handle' of Ursa Major (the Great Bear) to the bright orange star Arctaurus in the constellation of Bo?tes on the right of the chart above. Hercules is located to the east (left) of Bo?tes . Further to the east of Bo?tes is the Summer Triangle that is just coming into view.

The most interesting object to see is Messier 13 (M13) the beautiful Globular Cluster. Using binoculars a small smudge of light can be seen in the western vertical side of the central square of Hercules. (The square is called ‘the Keystone' because it resembles the centre stone of an arch.)

Messier 13 (M13) the Globular Cluster in Hercules

Using a telescope a beautiful ball of stars can be seen, this is an object called a Globular Cluster . These are thought to be the dense cores of small galaxies that have ventured too close to our Giant Spiral Galaxy that we call the Milky Way. The outer stars of these small galaxies have been stripped away by the powerful gravitational force of the Milky Way. Stars in the dense core have resisted the pull of the Milky Way. The tightly bound stars in the core are close enough to each other to resist the pull from the Milky Way.

There is another Globular Cluster called Messier 92 (M92) in Hercules. It is further away from us than M13 and therefore appears smaller and fainter. These two clusters are about the same size and both contain about a million stars. Although M13 looks bigger and brighter M92 is more compact and appears neater and has a tighter ball of stars. It does however require a larger telescope to see well.

Messier 92 (M92) another Globular Cluster in Hercules



MERCURY rises at 03:30 but it will be very difficult to see in the brightening pre-dawn sky.

VENUS is now higher in the west at sunset and is very bright at magnitude -3.9. The telescopic view is not very good because Venus is on the opposite side of the Sun and appearing small. It will become larger but narrower over the next few months. It still requires a Moon filter to reduce the dazzling and sparkling effect and improve the appearance while it is low in the sky. See the chart below.

Venus in the west at 20:45

MARS will rise in the south east at 01:30, following Saturn but will be lost in the brightening sky by 04:30. See the Saturn chart in the next column. The Red Planet is appearing larger at 14.5 arc-seconds in diameter but will brighten to magnitude -1.0. Mars is low and in the turbulent air but is starting to look larger. The surface markings are just starting to become visible.

JUPITER is now a good late evening and early morning object. It rises over the eastern horizon at about 21:00 and will be observable in the south east from 22:00. A pair of binoculars will reveal the four brightest of Jupiter's moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. A small telescope will allow the moons to be seen very clearly.

Jupiter at 22:00 BST on 15th May

Jupiter will be at opposition at midnight on 9 th May (01:00 BST). This means it will due south when the Sun is due north (but below the horizon). Jupiter will be at its very best position for observing at this time. Jupiter's inner moon Io will also be transiting the planet. It will be interesting to watch the transit with a telescope because the shadow of Io will be directly behind Io and only just be visible on Jupiter.

Mars, Saturn and Jupiter at 02:00 BST on 15th April

SATURN will be visible in the early morning sky close to the south eastern horizon. The ringed planet rises at about midnight this month, this about 4 hours before the Sun. The view of Saturn will not be good this year as it will be close to the horizon. It is observable in the south east from 01:30 until the sky begins to brighten at about 04:30 which is about half an hour before sunrise.

URANUS will not be observable this month as it is too close to the Sun after its conjunction with the Sun last month.

NEPTUNE will not be easy to see this month as it rises over the south eastern horizon at 02:00 so it will be in the brightening sky before the Sun rises at 04:00. See the Mercury chart.


There were a few small sunspots visible during April but the main active phase of the Solar Cycle is now over.

The Sun rises at 05:30 at the beginning of the month and at 04:50 by the end of the month. It will be setting at 20:20 at the beginning and 21:05 at the end of the month.


Last Quarter will be on 8th May

New Moon will be on 15th May

First Quarter will be on 22nd May

Full Moon will be on 29th May

The thin crescent of the New Moon should be visible in the west after sunset on the 18th May and will be a good target for binoculars or a small telescope.

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