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May 2012 evening planets and more May 2, 2012

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro.
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Venus really shines this month (sorry, couldn’t resist.) It is bright enough to spot in broad daylight if you happen to have a paper towel tube and know exactly where to look (but do be careful, it’s not that far from the Sun.) The best views of course are in the evening, just after sunset. It’s particularly nice this month in a low power telescope, since you’ll be able to watch it change noticeably in shape and size. At the beginning of the month look for it at mid altitude (~35ยบ) and due west. It sets in the NW just after midnight. Late in the month it will be low in the WNW at sunset, and sets around 10 PM. Look for Venus and a very young Moon on May 22.

Don’t miss the transit of Venus on June 5! http://sunearthday.nasa.gov/2012/transit/index.php (by the way, I probably won’t post an evening planets in June post until mid June…)

Mars continues to be a good evening target. Though it is pulling away from us and therefore getting smaller, it is now high in the sky during the evening, so it is an easier target for evening observers. Look for it high in the south not far from the blue star Regulus in Leo all month. The first quarter Moon passes just below it on May 28 – 29.

Saturn is just past opposition and therefore relatively close to us. The rings have a nice tilt, and a small telescope and steady skies should be all you need to spot the Cassini division. You can usually see a few of it’s moons using a small telescope too. Determine which ones you are seeing using the javascript app at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/planets/3308506.html. A gibbous moon passes by on May 31, so moons may be hard to see for several days before and after that.

On May 31, Mercury re-appears in the evening skies, but just barely. The best views of this elusive planet will come in the last 2 weeks of June and first 2 weeks of July, when the sky tends to stay bright well past the time when Mercury sets. Use binoculars, and try especially on June 21 and 22, when the very young Moon can help guide you.

On May 20, there will be an annular eclipse of the Sun. You basically have to be in the Pacific to really see this, but there will be webcasts. Check out the resources at http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OH2012.html#SE2012May20A or join the Exploratorium in Second Life http://blogs.exploratorium.edu/fabricated-realities/2012/03/03/annular-solar-eclipse-of-2012-may-20-in-sl/.

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