we had a lot of cloudy nights, April proved to be much better than
March for stargazing and astrophotography. My two
best images included M51 the Whirlpool Galaxy and 57 the Ring Nebula.
is one of my favorite nighttime objects. You can see there are
two galaxies in the photo. They are often referred to as M51-A
(the larger of the two) and M51-B. You can also see there is a
stream of stars going between the two. This is probably the
result of a collision between the two that took place more than 50
million years ago. The stream is caused by the strong
gravitational field of M51-A pulling stars away from its smaller
companion. M51 is roughly 23 million light years away.
the Ring Nebula, is a planetary nebula. Its distinctive
wedding-ring shape appears to float in the skies. M57 is about
1,400 light years away. It can be seen through binoculars but a
small telescope is needed to distinguish the ring feature of it.
MAY SKY WATCHING
takes over from Arcturus as the Eastern star. If you use
the Big Dipper to point to Arcturus, you can follow the same arc, about
the twice the distance to the southeast to find Spica. Spica has
a visual magnitude of +1.05, so it’s not as bright as Arcturus, but it
is the 15th brightest star in the night skies.
On the night of
May 5, this year’s Eta Aquarids Meteor shower will be at its
peak. The meteors will appear to originate in or near the eastern
horizon. Peak viewing will be from 3 to 4:30 a.m.
May 7, Mercury will be at its highest point above the western
horizon. Look for it just after sundown. Don’t confuse it
with Venus. Venus is much brighter and will be fairly high above
the western horizon.
May 23, Saturn will be at its brightest phase of the year. At
midnight, it will be about a third of the way from the southern horizon
to the zenith and just a little east of due south. This is a
great opportunity to get a view of the rings and moons of Saturn.
Hercules Cluster (M13) can be observed just about every night!
With a visual magnitude of +5.8, it can be viewed with the naked eye on
very clear, dark nights. If you take the time to head up on the
beach or get away from city light pollution by driving to such spots as
Ramp 27, you will have a better chance of spotting it.
can locate it by mentally drawing a line from Arcturus towards a very
bright star to the northeast, Vega. The Hercules Cluster is about
two-thirds of the length of that line. It will be difficult to
see without binoculars or a telescope. If you have the
option of viewing M13 through binoculars or a telescope, you will be
amazed at how spectacular it is!
- Full Moon: May 3
- Third Quarter: May 11
- New Moon: May 18
- First Quarter: May 25
Ecliptic is the path the sun and planets take through the
skies. Of course, this is a relative view since the planet
Earth is actually revolving around the Sun on the same path as the
other planets. Remember Copernicus!
planetary nebula is a cloud of gas emitted by a dying red giant
star. In the 1780s, William Herschel thought the round shapes
looked like planets and gave them the confusing name.
Lebing is a retired computer scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey
in Washington, D.C. He has visited Hatteras Island since the
mid-1970s. He and his wife, Karen, have owned property here for several
years and moved to their home in Waves full-time in 2013.
Astronomy is a subject that Gerry says he has always been interested in
and one that he pursues seriously -- he's built an small observatory
next to his house. You can send him questions about the night sky
through e-mail, [email protected].)