WHAT'S UP THIS MONTH - MAY 2022

(Link to What's Up June 2022)

(Link to What's Up April 2022)

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THESE PAGES ARE INTENDED TO HELP YOU FIND YOUR WAY AROUND THE SKY

The chart above shows the whole night sky as it appears on 15th May at 21:00 (9 o'clock) British Summer Time (BST). As the 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 8 o'clock BST at the beginning of the month and at 10 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, called the Zenith. 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 located 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.

Mercury and Uranus are visible in the early evening sky this month.

THE SOUTHERN NIGHT SKY THIS MONTH

The night sky looking south at about 21:00 BST on 15th May

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 and is shown (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 brightest stars often appear to form a group or recognisable pattern; we call these ‘Constellations'.

Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are: Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion), Virgo (the Virgin) and Libra (the Scales) just coming into view.

The constellation of Gemini (the Twins) can be seen in the early evening in the west. The two brightest stars in Gemini are Castor and Pollux and they are named after mythological twins. To the north west of Gemini is the odd pentagon shape of Auriga (the Charioteer). Dominating Auriga is the brilliant white star Capella which was almost directly overhead but now moving to the west. For those with a telescope there is a line of lovely open clusters to search out in Taurus and Auriga. These are M35 in Taurus and M36, M37 and M38 in Auriga.

In the west the winter constellation of Orion (the Hunter) is disappearing over the horizon but one of Orion's Hunting Dogs Procyon (the little dog) can still be seen in the south west. So if a bright star is seen in the south west this will be Procyon Orion's Little Dog.

To the east (left) of Gemini is the rather indistinct constellation of Cancer (the Crab). The stars of Cancer are quite faint and can be difficult to discern especially in a light polluted sky. It is really worth searching out Cancer using binoculars or a telescope to see the Open Cluster M44 (the Beehive Cluster). M44 is older and further away than M45 (the Seven Sisters) so is fainter than M45 but still looks lovely. It has a group of stars that resemble an old traditional conical straw Beehive with bees around it.

The constellation of Leo (the Lion) follows Cancer along the Ecliptic. It does actually look a little like a lion or the Sphinx in Egypt. Around and between Leo and the neighboring constellations of Coma Berenices and Virgo is a cluster of galaxies. Our galaxy and our local group of galaxies are members of this larger group of galaxies called the Virgo Cluster (see the April magazine). A medium sized telescope (150mm to 200mm) and a dark sky is required to see these faint objects.

The constellation of Virgo (the Virgin) can be seen at the lower east (left) of the chart above. To the north (above) and between Virgo and Leo is the fainter constellation of Coma Berenices (the hair of Berenices).

To the north of Virgo is the constellation of Boötes with its bright orange coloured star called Arctaurus. The other stars in Boötes are fainter and form the shape of an old fashioned diamond shaped kite with Arctaurus located where the string of the tail would be attached.

Arctaurus is one of just a few stars that do actually appear to be coloured. Arctaurus is noticeably orange to the ‘naked eye' and even more so when using binoculars or a telescope. It is actually a star with a mass similar to our Sun but is older at 7 billion years (our Sun is 4.3 billion years old). Arctaurus is approaching the end of its life and has developed into a Red Giant.

Where to find the planets this month

All the planets, except Uranus and Mercury are in the early morning eastern sky.

Mercury will be moving into Inferior conjunction with the Sun on 22st May .

Venus is very bright in the eastern sky before sunrise and was at its greatest westerly elongation (furthest from the Sun) on 20th March so it is now moving back towards the Sun.

Mars is still close to the Sun and appears very small as it is on the other side of the Sun.

Jupiter was in conjunction on 5th March so is now in the eastern sky before sunrise.

Saturn was in conjunction on 4th February and is now in the eastern sky before sunrise.

Uranus will be in conjunction with the Sun on 5th May so will not be observable .

Neptune was in conjunction on 15 th March so is now in the eastern sky before sunrise.

 

THE CONSTELLATIONS OF LEO, VIRGO AND COMA BERENICES

 

The Spring Constellations

Leo (the Lion) is quite distinctive with the ‘Sickle' shaped pattern of stars looking much like the head of the lion that Leo represents. In fact the traditional ‘stick figure' shape of Leo as shown on the chart above does look rather like the lion's body or the Sphinx in Egypt. The ‘Sickle' is also described as looking like a backwards question mark (?).

The Constellation of Leo (the Lion)

Leo does look unexpectedly large in the sky and may be a little difficult to find for the first time but once found it is found it is easy to recognise and find again .

Regulus is a large blue / white star approximately 160 times brighter than our Sun and lying at a distance of 69 light years. When viewed through a small telescope a smaller companion star can be seen close by making Regulus a double star. Regulus sits virtually on the ecliptic line (the brown line shown on the chart above) . This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky. Leo is therefore one of the twelve constellation s of the Zodiac.

Every eighteen years Regulus is ‘occulted' by the Moon once a month for a period of eighteen months. An occultation occurs when the Moon passes in front of the star so the star disappears behind the Moon. The last series of occultations occurred around 2007 and the next series will be around 2024. The Moon does however pass close to Regulus every month. It did pass close but above Regulus on the 18 th March this year.

The star Algieba, located above Regulus on the ‘Sickle', is a very nice double star about 75 light years from us. The two stars orbit each other around their common centre of gravity every 620 years and have magnitudes of +2.2 and +3.5 which give them a combined magnitude of +1.98.

This time of the year is regarded as the season of galaxies and Leo is on the edge of a large group of galaxies called the ‘Virgo Cluster'. The main group is located in the neighbouring constellations of Virgo and Coma Berenices to the east (left) of Leo. However Leo does have four lovely bright galaxies of its own, these are known as: M65, M66, M95 and M96. They are marked in yellow on the chart above just below the ‘lion'. The galaxies in and around Leo do require a medium sized telescope and a dark unpolluted sky to see well.

Galaxies M65 and M66 in Leo

Galaxies M96 and M95 in Leo

Our Galaxy, that we call the Milky Way, is a member of the group of galaxies that make up the Virgo Cluster. Our galaxy is also a member of a smaller group of galaxies called ‘the Local Group'. The local group has about 30 members dominated by our Milky Way and M31 the Great Andromeda Galaxy both of which are Giant Spiral Galaxies containing 200 billion and 400 billion stars respectively. The rest of the galaxies in our Local Group are small and dwarf galaxies. So our Local Group is one of many other groups that make up the large Virgo Group of Galaxies.

Spring time is regarded as the season of galaxies. Th is is because there is a group of Galaxies located between the constellations of Leo, Virgo and Coma Berenices. Leo was the constellation of the month in the April addition of this magazine. We saw then how Leo ha s f our lovely bright (Messier) galaxies of its own, these are known as: M65, M66, M95 and M96. They can be seen on the chart above marked in yellow just below the shape of Leo the Lion.

When we look in the direction of Virgo we are looking up and out of our Galaxy (the Milky Way). We are not looking through the main disc structure so our view it not obscured by the multitude of stars and thick clouds of gas and dust in our galaxy. With this clearer view out of the Milky Way we are able to see the other galaxies that surround our galaxy. Some of the brighter of these local galaxies called the ‘Virgo Cluster' are marked in yellow on the chart above.

Virgo is located on the ecliptic (the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky). This means the Sun, Moon and planets can appear to pass through Virgo.

The constellation of Virgo

Virgo (the Virgin) is one of the ‘Spring Constellations' because it enters the night sky in the early months of the year as it begins to rise over the eastern horizon in the evening. Most of its stars are not bright but Spica is the exception. It is a variable star with an apparent brightness (known as magnitude) that varies between +0.97 and -1.4. It is classified as the 16 th brightest star in the night sky.

Spica is listed as a Spectroscopic Binary star. This means it is a double star but the two stars are so close together that they cannot be separated using a telescope. It was found to be a double star when the spectrum of the star's light was found to be the combined spectra of two different stars. The pair is so close together that the gravity has caused them to be elliptical (egg shaped) as the part of each star facing the other is pulled towards the other by their gravity.

The two Spica stars are both larger and hotter than our sun but are only 18 million kilometr e s apart. That is very close for stars. For comparison, Earth's distance from our S un is 150 million kilometr e s. They are so close to each other that t heir mutual gravity distorts the star s to produce a bulge pulled towards the other as they whirl around . They orbit around their common centre of gravity in just four days.

An artist's impression of the Spica pair of stars

Coma Berenices (the hair of Berenices) is a rather indistinct constellation and appears as a simple ‘L' shape formed by three rather faint stars. Coma Berenices is associated with the story of a historical figure, Queen Berenice II of Egypt. Berenice was married to Ptolemy III Euergetes (246 BC - 221 BC), who went on a dangerous mission against the Seleucids people in 243 BC, during the Third Syrian War.

Worried for her husband's life, the queen swore to the god Aphrodite that she would cut off her beautiful long, blonde hair if the goddess brought Ptolemy back home safely.

Once her husband had returned, Berenice fulfilled her promise to the goddess. She cut off her hair and placed it in Aphrodite's temple. The hair was stolen and disappeared the next day. This made the king furious. To appease him, the court astronomer Conon said that Aphrodite was so pleased with Berenice's offering that she had placed it in the sky, pointing to the group of stars that have since been known as Berenice's Hair (Coma Berenices).

 

Coma Berenices (Berenices' Hair)

Coma Berenices is quite indistinct and is only the 42nd constellation in size, occupying an area of 386 square degrees. It lies in the third quadrant of the northern hemisphere (known as NQ3) and can be seen at latitudes between +90° and -70°. The neighbouring constellations are Boötes, Canes Venatici, Leo, and Virgo.

The main importance of Coma Berenices is that it hosts part of the ‘Virgo Galactic Cluster' which spills over from the constellations of Virgo and Leo.

Coma Berenices has two stars with known planets. It also contains eight Messier objects (shown in yellow on the chart above): M53, the Black Eye Galaxy M64, M85, M88, M91, M98, M99, and M100. These are marked in yellow on the chart above.

The brightest star in the constellation is Beta Comae Berenices. Coma Berenices contains only one formally named star. The star name approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is Diadem (also called Alpha Comae Berenices A). Diadem is located at the bottom of the stick figure of Coma Berenices shown on the chart above.

There is one (minor) meteor shower associated with the constellation; that is called the Coma Berenicids Shower.

 

THE SOLAR SYSTEM - MAY 2022

The location of the planets at 07:30 BST on 15th May 2022

The chart above shows the location of the planets along the Ecliptic in the morning sky. The sky has been darkened to make the planets visible. The planets are: (in order as they appear before sunrise) Saturn, Mars, Venus Neptune and Jupiter. They are visible along the Elliptic from the West (right) to East (left). Mercury and Uranus appear close to Sun after it sets over the western horizon in the evening. The planets appear low in the sky, in the bright morning or evening sky so are not well positioned for observing.

MERCURY will be moving into Inferior conjunction with the Sun on 22nd May. After conjunction it will be moving into the morning sky and rising before the Sun. Mercury was at its greatest elongation on 29 th April when it was at its apparent furthest point in the sky from the Sun.

VENUS rises about one hour before the Sun climbs over the eastern horizon. It is looking very bright in the east before sunrise. It will show a large diameter but it will be getting smaller and will appear as a widening crescent. It is called the ‘Morning Star' at this time.

MARS is on the other side of the Sun (so appears very small) and still appears close to the Sun so will be difficult to see. Mars rises at about 03:30 about 90 minutes before the Sun and will not appear in the evening sky again until September 2022.

JUPITER rises over the eastern horizon at about 03:30. It is bright and observable but is low over the eastern horizon before sunrise. The cloud markings will just be visible on its shimmering disc in the turbulent air.

SATURN is the first planet to appear over the eastern horizon so will be appearing in the morning sky about 2½ hours before sunrise. It will be very low over the eastern horizon in the brightening sky and difficult to see but will be moving into the evening sky later in the year.

URANUS will not be observable this month as it will be in conjunction with the Sun on 5th May. It then rises in the early morning sky just before the Sun.

NEPTUNE was in conjunction with the Sun on 13th March and has moved into the early morning sky. It is quite easy to find this month because it is located close to the much brighter Jupiter. It will still be difficult to see in the brightening dawn sky and will need a telescope to appear as a small blue disc.

 

THE SUN

The Sun rises at about 05:30 BST at the beginning of the month and 05:00 by the end of the month. It sets at 20:35 at the beginning of the month and 18:00 at the end of the month.

Sunspots imaged by SOHO on 21st April

There have been a lot of very nice Sunspots recently. Sunspots and other activity on the Sun can be followed live and day to day by visiting the NASA SOHO website at: http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/ .

 

THE MOON PHASES DURING MAY

First Quarter will be on 9th May

Full Moon will be on 16th May

Last Quarter will be on 22nd May

New Moon will be on 30th May

 

THERE WILL BE A TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE ON 16th MAY 2022

Chart showing where the eclipse can be seen

The Moon will pass through the Earth's shadow between 03:28 and 06:55 BST, creating a total lunar eclipse. The eclipse will be visible any location where the Moon is above the horizon at the time, including from Africa, the Americas, Europe and French Polynesia.

It will be difficult to see from Newbury because the Moon will set partway through the total eclipse and will only be 5° above the horizon when the eclipse starts. The total eclipse will last from 04:30 until 05:54. The Moon will be partially eclipsed between 03:28 and 06:55 (all times given in London time). The table below lists the times when each part of the eclipse will begin and end. The time when the Moon has set over the horizon are shown ghosted.

Time

UTC

02:33

01:33

Moon enters the Earth's penumbra.

03:28

02:28

Moon enters the Earth's umbra.

04:30

03:30

Moon fully within Earth's umbra.

05:12

04:12

Midpoint of eclipse.

05:54

04:54

Moon leaves the Earth's umbra.

06:55

05:55

Moon outside the Earth's umbra.

07:51

06:51

Moon leaves Earth's penumbra.

The eclipse will begin at 02:33, when the Moon first enters a region of the Earth's shadow called the penumbra. In this outer part of the Earth's shadow, an observer on the Moon would see the Earth partially obscuring the Sun's disk but not completely covering it. As a result the Moon's brightness will begin to dim, as it is less strongly illuminated by the Sun, but it remains illuminated. At 03:28, the edge of the Moon's disk will enter the Earth's umbra. This is the region of space in which an observer on the Moon's surface would see the Earth completely obscuring the whole of the Sun's disk and would find themselves thrust into night-like darkness.

Lunar eclipses always occur at night, because the sunlight has to be shining on the opposite side of Earth (where it is daytime). Earth's shadow is projected on to the Moon that is facing the night side of Earth. The Moon will also be full because it is in direct line with Earth but further out . S o we are looking from the dark side of Earth towards the bright side of the Moon that is fully illuminated by Sunlight.

As the Moon moves into Earth's shadow, the shadow will be seen to start moving across the face of the Moon. The edge of shadow is not as sharp as in a solar eclipse because Earth's atmosphere blurs the edge. The shadow will creep across the Moon until the whole surface is covered. Not all Lunar Eclipses are 'total‘.

Diagram showing a Solar Eclipse and Lunar Eclipse

As an increasing fraction of the Moon's face creeps into the Earth's umbra, we see our planet's circular shadow creep across the face of the Moon. Eventually the Moon will pass entirely within the Earth's umbra at 04:30 and the total eclipse will begin. Unfortunately the Moon will begin to set at 05:00.

The location of the Moon and planets at 04:00 on 16th May

Although the Lunar Eclipse will be over for us by 05:00 it will be seen in its entirety in the USA. However for those of us in the UK who have braved the early morning cold there could be an early morning treat while the eclipse is progressing. Most of the planets will be rising over the eastern horizon before the Sun rises. While the Lunar Eclipse is developing on the western horizon the planets will be rising over the eastern horizon. The planets rise at: Saturn (02:30), Mars (03:30), Neptune (03:30), Jupiter (03:40) and Venus (04:00).

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