Sunday, May 17, 2009

Our busy morning sky

Over the next several weeks, our morning sky is active with planetary sights. The thinning crescent moon slides between Jupiter and Venus on May 18. Three mornings later, the moon catches Venus, forming an intriguing pair with it and the much dimmer Mars.

For the rest of May, Mars rises with brilliant Venus, lying just to its left. Observe this before 5:15 so morning twilight won't interfere with the conjunction of these two planets.

Another interesting sight awaits those Skywatchers armed with binoculars. Look at Jupiter and use the chart to distinguish the very dim Neptune to Jupiter's upper left. Jupiter is represented by the yellow bar and text, Neptune by the white. The star directly to the west Jupiter, perhaps partially concealed in its glare, is Mu Capricorni. Neptune is to Mu's left. Neptune lies nearly 3 billion miles away, over 6 times farther than bright Jupiter! Look for these two worlds before 4:30 a.m. as Neptune needs dark skies to be visible.

Such is our view from Earth ...