Backyard Stargazer

By Francis Parnell

I’ve 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 showing visitors “what’s out there.” With the help of a friend, Mr. Ernest Lowry, I built my own telescope in 1986. And, because of light pollution, for the last 31 years I’ve been educating people about the advantages of using fully-shielded lighting at night.

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Using the moon as our guide, let’s take a look at some interesting sights in the night sky for May.
At twilight on May 7th, look for a thin crescent moon before it sets. “Aldebaran”, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus, the Bull, is about 6-degrees to the upper left of the moon. On May 13th, spot “Regulus”, the brightest star in the constellation Leo, the Lion, about 4-degrees above the first quarter moon. Bright yellow Jupiter blazes 15-degrees to their upper left. On the night of May 14th, look for Jupiter 4-degrees to the upper left of the waxing gibbous moon.

Mars is at “Opposition” on the night of the 21st in the constellation Scorpius, the Scorpion. Opposition means that earth caught up with Mars and it’s opposite the sun in our night sky. Look for the bright red planet 7-degrees to the lower right of the full moon. On May 22nd, the moon rises in twilight. Look for the modest light of Saturn about 4-degrees to its right.

A neat way to estimate degrees (or angular distances) in the sky is with your outstretched arm. Extend your pinky finger and that will be about 1-degree. Three fingers at arms length will equal about 5-degrees, and a closed fist is about 10-degrees. Hold your index and pinky fingers far apart as possible; that’s about 15-degrees. Your thumb and pinky far apart equals about 20-degrees. Try this method to estimate distances in the sky and you’ll quickly become a Backyard Stargazer too!

Clear skies, and remember, “Keep looking up!”
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Editor’s note: as part of our “Where are they now?” series of finding former writers of the News & Press, we uncovered a hidden gem right in front of us when we realized that Francis wrote for the paper a while back. With the promise of a Boston Cream Pie, he has agreed to share his biography this month and the first installment of this “Backyard Stargazer” celestial previews.

Author: Jana Pye

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