Backyard Stargazer for May 2017
By Francis Parnell
After sunset on the 3rd, look for the waxing gibbous Moon about 4-degrees to the right of “Regulus”, the brightest star in LEO, the Lion.
At nightfall on the 7th, spot bright yellow Jupiter 3-degrees to the right of the almost full Moon. “Spica” the brightest star in VIRGO, shines 9-degrees below or lower left of the pair.
For all you early risers, the waning gibbous Moon is about 8-degrees to the right of the ringed planet Saturn at dawn on the 13th and 6-degrees to the upper left of Saturn on the 14th.
Also, look for the waning lunar crescent around 4-degrees lower right of brilliant white Venus at dawn on the 22nd and below Venus on the 23rd.
If you have a pair of binoculars, head out at dark on the 29th to view the waxing crescent Moon in the west and a star cluster that’s 590 light-years away. The “Beehive Cluster”, a sparkling Open Cluster of stars in CANCER, the Crab, is about 3-degrees to the Moon’s upper right. The reason it’s called the “Beehive Cluster” is because in binoculars, or a small telescope at low power, it makes you think of a swarm of bees around a hive.
If you found the “Big Dipper” (Ursa Major) using the star chart in last month’s column, you can use the dipper to find the constellation of LEO, the Lion. A line through the center of the bowl of the dipper and extended for about 30-degrees south, takes you to a backwards question mark that makes up the head, chest, and front leg of LEO. The bright star “Regulus”, which in ancient Greek means “Little King”, is 79 light-years away, five times the Sun’s diameter, and 150 times brighter. “Denebola”, in medieval Arabic means “The Lion’s Tail”, is 36 light-years away, and “Algieba”, a beautiful double-star in small telescopes is 130 light-years away.
So, after sunset, head outside to make friends with the celestial “King of the Beasts!” He won’t bite – but the stargazing bug just might!
The stars belong to everyone so “Keep looking up!”
Francis Parnell of Darlington has been an amateur astronomer for over 46 years, and was on the staff and helped out at the Francis Marion University Observatory from 1982 until 2006 by showing visitors “what’s out there.” With the help of a friend, Mr. Ernest Lowry, he built his own telescope in 1986. And, because of light pollution, for the last 31 years he has been advocating for the advantages of using fully-shielded lighting at night.