What's Up in the Night Sky?

May 2024 - Vol. 28, No. 5

Astra's Star Gate

This Month's Night Sky - NOTE: The next paragraph describes the sky as it appears at 10 pm EST (11 pm EDT) near mid- month. The sky also looks this way at 11 pm EST (midnight EDT) during the beginning of the month and at 9 pm EST (10 pm EDT) by month's end.

As May brings the lengthening days, the hours of nightly observation decrease as well. It is always with a bit of sadness that we say good-bye to the Winter and Spring constellations, Gemini, Leo, and Virgo. The early evening presence of Arcturus, the second brightest star in the northern sky, reminds us that the bright star clouds of the Milky Way will soon be brightening up those dark evenings when the Moon is small enough to allow us to truly enjoy those galactic treasures. As the evening turns to morning, the bright stars of the summer triangle follow until just before sunrise, the Milky Way is at the zenith, high overhead. Long twilight hours come to the northern hemisphere.

May 2024 should be called the month of occultations! Lots of planets, stars, and bright asteroids are being occulted this month. Check the calendar on this page for details. MERCURY reaches greatest elongation on May 9, producing the best morning apparition of 2024 for observers in the southern hemisphere. VENUS too close to the Sun this month, heading for superior conjunction in June. MARS continues to rise in the morning sky, shining at 1.1 mag. JUPITER reaches conjunction with the Sun on the 18th. SATURN in the morning sky is occulted twice by the moon, see the calendar of events on this page. URANUS too close to the Sun to be seen this month. NEPTUNE is in the morning sky, for those with telescopes.

Review how to determine Angular Measurement.

Calendar of Events

NOTE: For those observers not in the ET zone, convert the calendar times to your zone's time by subtracting one hour for CT, two for MT and three for PT. Don't forget to adjust for Daylight Savings Time when necessary by subtracting one hour from your planisphere's time. Dawn and dusk times must also be corrected. See your local newspaper, TV news, or cable TV's Weather Channel for sunrise and sunset times or check with the U.S. Naval observatory. Unfortunately some of these events may occur during daylight hours in your area.

DATE EVENT
03 Saturn .8 deg. N. of the Moon, occultation for the far southern regions, Antarctica, SE Australasia, SW Polynesia, SE Melanesia.
04 Neptune 0.3 deg. N. of Moon, occultation from SE Australia, most of Polynesia, Galapagos Is., parts of southern North America.
05 Moon at perigee.
Eta Aquarid meteor peak. The shower produces up to 60 meteors at its peak.
Mars 0.2 deg. S. of Moon occultation from extreme E. Africa, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, SE Asia, NW Indonesia, Philippines, E. China, Japan, and SE of Russia.
06 Mercury 4 deg. S. of Moon.
08 Mars at perihelion.
09 Moon 0.4 deg. S. of the Pleiades (M-45).
Mercury greatest elongation W (26 deg.)
12 Alpha Geminorum, Pollux, 1.6 deg. N. of Moon.
13 Uranus in conjunction with the Sun.
16 Asteroid Juno 1.1 deg. S. of the Moon occultation from N. Greenland, extreme N. Canada, E. Russia, NW Alaska, NE China, and N. Japan.
Ceres stationary.
17 Moon at apogee.
18 Jupiter in conjunction with Sun.
20 Mercury at greatest heliocentric lat. S.
Alpha Virginis, Spica 1.4 deg. S. of Moon. Should be a rather nice conjunction.
23 This month's full Moon is often called the "Flower Moon" after the flowers that bloom in the season of Spring in North America.
24 Alpha Scorpii, Antares, 0.4 deg. S. of Moon, occultation from parts of N. and S. America, Ascension Is., W & W Central Africa.
27 Asteroid Ceres 0.9 deg. N. of the Moon occultation from extreme southern locations.
31 Mercury 1.3 deg. S. of Uranus.
Saturn 0.4 deg. N. of the Moon, occultation from southern S. America, S. Georgia, Ascension Is., and parts of Africa.

Lunar Almanac for May 2024

Phases of the Moon Phase and Date(s) Best viewed before local midnight
new moon New
07
Deep Space Objects
first quarter moon 1st. Qtr
15
Planets & Moon
full moon Full
23
Moon
last quarter moon Last Qtr
01
Deep Space & Planets

April 8, 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

Astra's Observations during the Total Solar Eclipse

Astra and telescope ready for the eclipse
Telescope at the Ready

I observed the April 8, 2024 eclipse with my family from Cleveland, Ohio. We had decided that despite weather cautions, we wanted to see what there was to be seen from our backyard. The entire eclipse had to be viewed through high cirrus clouds. As an experienced eclipse chaser, the clouds just added some magic. We set up in the back yard to watch before first contact, around 1:58 pm EDT local time. There were 3 clusters of sunspots that could be seen as the Moon moved across the Sun’s disk.

We used a 6" reflector with 32mm eyepiece and a full Thousand Oaks solar filter and a 3" refractor with 18mm eyepiece with 500 mm f/l Ceymore Solar filter. We mounted our 10 x 42 Celestron porro-EclipSmart binoculars on our sturdy tripod. We used viewers or "sunglasses" and small projection cameras as well as a larger box pinhole camera.

It got cooler when the moon covered half of the Sun. In fact, the weather of the day surprised me. Weather called for 68 degrees and it was at least that. Not usual for early April. I wore only my tee-shirt all day and we needed our hats to keep us cool. As the sky was getting darker, little birds were flying about as if on their way home.

As totality approached, a magnificent 22-degree halo surrounded the eclipsed Sun. I absolutely love halos and go crazy photographing them when I see them. You can find that image and more, as well as extra details on our experience by going to Astra's Eclipse Guide and the Total Solar Eclipse of April 08, 2024 page.

Soon totality was upon us. It occurred around 3:13 pm just as had been predicted. The Sun’s corona was blending in with the clouds. I found Jupiter in the sky but I don’t think I actually saw Venus myself. It was cloudy, after all. I tried to see comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, but there were just too many clouds. The view at the telescope was fantastic with giant prominences blasting on all four corners—at the poles and sides and many small red blobs around. When I looked away from the telescope, I could see a prominence blaring red at the bottom of the disk with my naked eye. I looked around the horizon, where I could see between houses, I could see light all around from the non-eclipsed area at the horizon.

I was pointing my camera at the eclipse to ready a shot. Someone yelled, "Oh, it’s coming out!" I hit the shutter and got a cool diamond ring image. I guess I watched the end of the eclipse through the camera viewer. I was zoomed in as the Moon exited the disk of the Sun. It was fun watching the eclipse together as a family. Soon after totality, squirrels were scurrying about the trees as if they had just gotten up for the day! I think the picture I took at the end of the eclipse is the best one I've ever taken. Unfortunately, it meant that the journey to totality had been realized.

Astra's diamond ring photograph
Diamond Ring image by Astra

I kept peeking in the telescope as the sunspots on the disk of the Sun were revealed in reverse order. First the last spots to disappear returned. Some spots that were near to the edge of the Sun earlier appeared sharper as they had moved toward the center of the disk. I did notice the ragged edge of the Moon in my telescope during this eclipse. We watched as last contact approached. About 4:58 pm, I watched as the disk of the Moon egressed from the disk of the Sun from my telescope. Soon, the Moon moved off the Sun’s disk and it was all over. The memory of the April 8, 2024 eclipse as seen from my backyard will stay with me forever.

What was in the Sky during the April 8 Total Solar Eclipse

The image below comes from the Stellarium planetarium program. It was programmed for northeastern Ohio, but these results will be similar in your own sky at the time of totality. For this eclipse we are fortunate to be treated to the spectacle of a very nice periodic comet that is heading for its perihelion date with the Sun. Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks has been quite active so far for this visit to the inner solar system, a visit that occurs once every 71.3 years. Perhaps when the Moon covers the Sun completely, sharp eyes and cameras can spot the comet near Jupiter. Brighter, but closer to the horizon, Venus may also be seen.

Day of the Eclipse

--See You Under the Stars, uh, Sky!
Astra for Astra's Almanac

This installment of "What's Up?" is ©2024 by Dawn Jenkins for Astra's Stargate. View Ron Leeseburg's Farewell Issue for information on where to find information such as is presented in this almanac.