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Post Info TOPIC: May 2009


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RE: May 2009
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Spring has sprung - and it shows in the sky. Gone are the in-your-face constellations of winter, to be replaced by the more subtle groupings for the softer days. One is the constellation of Bo÷tes: a kite-shaped pattern of stars just below the "tail" of the Great Bear (Ursa Major). In legend, Bo÷tes was "the herdsman", and the name of its brightest star - Arcturus, visible high in the south - means "bear driver", because this brilliant star appears to herd the bear around the sky as the Earth spins.
If you have a clear, dark sky, look at the colour of Arcturus. It's orange. With our light-polluted skies, we can hardly see that the stars are coloured: but their hues range from baleful red to brilliant blue-white. Red stars are the coolest, blue stars are the hottest.

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May gives diligent sky watchers the chance to see the six planets from Mercury to Saturn, all visible to the naked eye.
Mercury starts May in the west-northwestern sky as the sky darkens after sunset. Mercury is shining at a magnitude of +1.1 as May begins. By Thursday, it will have faded to +2.7 and will remain above the horizon for an hour after the sun sets. Using binoculars will aid you in spotting this closest planet to the sun. Just to the right of Mercury will be the open star cluster, the Pleiades.

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Sunday: The moon glitters to the lower right of pale gold Saturn this evening. Any small telescope will give stargazers a peek at the famous rings that circle the planet. Currently, the rings are facing the earth nearly edgewise so they will only appear as a narrow band of light. Moderate-sized instruments will reveal a series of pale coloured bands that cross Saturn's atmosphere.

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Sky watchers are in for a treat early tomorrow morning when a meteor shower will take place.
The meteor shower -- Eta Aquariids -- also known as Earth grazers will be at its peak, SPACE Director C B Devgun told PTI.
Eta Aquariids is visible from late April to early May each year with its peak activity on May 4, he said.

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There is a Full Moon on May 9 and a New Moon on the 24th. The Full Moon is almost too bright to view through binoculars or a telescope, it is best observed around 1st Quarter on the 1st or 31st.
Observing with a magnification of 100, on a night when our own atmosphere is steady, you are getting the same view that the Apollo astronauts had when passing just 2,500 miles above the lunar surface!
At the very start of this month the planet Mercury ends its superb evening appearance and can be found low down in the north west 40 minutes after sunset. By the end, Venus rises almost two hours before the Sun, its brilliance making unmistakeable images.

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May is finally upon us, and what a fine month it is. We wait for months for the ideal weather of mid-spring, when nature around us blooms back to life. Enjoy it, and be sure to look up at night to see the season's glittering stars and a few meteors shooting by.
Often called "shooting stars," they are not stars at all, but pieces of rock from space that come hurtling downward over your heads. Fortunately the vast majority of them vaporise many miles up.

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As evening twilight fades, look high in the south to find Saturn in the constellation Leo the Lion. The bright yellow planet will be escorted by Leo's brightest star, Regulus, to the right (west).
Saturn's rings are slightly tilted toward us, but after this month they will begin closing toward edgewise.

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