Night Sky May 2017
With May comes bank holidays, woo! It also means that spring will begin to turn to summer very soon. The sun will be in full view for longer meaning that seeing the night sky will now be a late night activity.
In the news recently has been Cassini, the probe that has been orbiting Saturn since 2004. It was launched in 1997 and after 20 years, in September 2017 its mission will end. It has been the only mission to have ever explored that region of our solar system. I think it is a truly remarkable feat that Cassini has lasted so long and has continued to grow our understanding of how giant planets and planetary systems form and evolve. No doubt you will hear about its Grand Finale closer to September.
Close to the northern horizon, you can see Cassiopeia. To the west of Cassiopeia, you may still be able to see Perseus and Auriga.
The constellations of Lyra, Cygnus and Aquila are now in the east. The stars of the ‘Summer Triangle’ can be seen in these constellations; Vega in Lyra, Deneb in Cygnus and Altair in Aquila.
M13 the brightest globular cluster in the northern hemisphere and can be seen with the naked eye as part of the constellation of Hercules.
The star Polaris (part of Ursa Minor) can be seen directly northwards.
Remember now that you are looking south, east and west have now flipped around.
Directly south is Virgo and the bright star Spica. Virgo also has the centre of the Local Supercluster, the Virgo Cluster, the nearest large cluster of galaxies. This cluster contains up to 2000 galaxies. This will be difficult to see without a telescope but with one, you can see the brightest galaxies of the cluster.
Arcturus in Bootes is visible in the south as well. The large constellation of Hydra is still visible close to the horizon. To the east, you will now see the constellation of Ophiuchus.
- 3rd 02:47 Moon first quarter
- 10th 21:42 Full Moon
- 12th 19:51 Moon at apogee
- 19th 00:33 Moon last quarter
- 25th 19:44 New Moon
- 26th 01:21 Moon at perigee
This months focus – Cassiopeia
The constellation of Cassiopeia is named after the vain queen Cassiopeia in Greek mythology. The wife of King Cepheus, her name in Greek means “she whose words excel”. The story goes, that her beauty and arrogance led to her downfall when she boasted that she and her daughter, Andromeda, were more beautiful than all the Nereids.
This led the Nereids to unleash Poseidon upon the kingdom of Ethiopia. After speaking to an oracle, Cepheus and Cassiopeia decided to sacrifice their daughter to appease the sea gods. Perseus saved Andromeda in time, but Poseidon did not think that she should escape punishment and as such placed her in the heavens in such a position that she is upside down for half the time.
Therefore Cassiopeia can be recognised in the northern sky as a W or M formation, depending on the time of year. It is one of the 88 modern constellations.
Segin (Epsilon Cassiopaeiae) is 441 light years from Earth. It is a blue-white B giant star that is 720 times brighter than our Sun. Ruchbah (Delta Cassiopaeiae) is 99 light years from Earth and fourth brightest in the constellation. Gamma Cassiopaeiae is the brightest star in the constellation. Schedar (Alpha Cassiopaeiae) is an orange giant star and is around 228 light years away from Earth. Caph (Beta Cassiopaeiae) is a yellow-white F giant star.
That’s all the star gazing for May. Check back soon for a look at what the June night sky has to offer.
No need for postcards, feel free to leave a comment…