The Pleiades' last hurrah

Saturday, May 10, 2014

As mentioned last week, our old friends, the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters are sinking rapidly toward the western horizon.

However, there is one more hoorah for the Pleiades, and that is tonight, May 7. Look to the west about 45-minutes after local sunset for the tiny star cluster just above the horizon. They should be very visible in binoculars.

A clear, uncluttered western horizon will be needed to find them because they are so low.

Don't use a telescope on the Pleiades because they are too big go fit into the field of view. However, do keep that telescope handy for use in finding a visitor just to the left of the cluster; tiny Mercury will be hanging out there trying to look like it belongs with the Seven Sisters.

They will both also be in the same field of binocular view.

The Hyades, as you know, are located around the bright star Aldebaran, the "Eye of the Bull," Taurus, the Bull that is.

Swing your binoculars up and left to the "V" shape that is the face of Taurus. Orion is located further left and is also sinking below the horizon. The "King of Winter" is headed for his summer rest. But never fear, he will be popping over the eastern horizon beginning in late November.

Saturday, May 10, is International Astronomy Day, and what better way to celebrate than to have the almost-full moon pay a visit to reddish-orange Mars high in the south about an hour after local sunset and to have the ringed-planet Saturn be at opposition.

At opposition means that Saturn will be opposite the Sun in the sky so it will rise at sunset, be up and visible all night, and set at sunrise. A good time to get out that telescope and take a look.

On the evening of May 10 it will be located in the constellation Libra, the Scales, right between Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali, the constellation's two principal stars.

Their tongue-twister names are Arabic for the Northern Claw and Southern Claw because both stars were a part of the constellation Scorpius until they were removed to make the zodiacal constellation Libra.

The full moon will pay a visit to Saturn on the evening of Tuesday, May 13.

Just to keep things balanced, not all the excitement is in the evening sky.

Tomorrow morning, May 8, look east for the bright planet Venus. A telescope will show that only part of the planetary disc is illuminated. Venus and Mercury both have phases--just like the moon--because the are closer to the Sun than we are.

As the week progresses, keep an eye on Venus because it and one of the outer gas-giant planets, Uranus, will be getting closer together for a very close meeting in the early morning hours of May 15, 16 and 17.

Binoculars will show the pair, quite nicely but if you have a very, very dark-sky place you might even be able to catch a glimpse of Uranus with just your eyes alone. It is tricky, but possible.

SKYWATCH: First quarter moon, yesterday, May 6. Tonight the moon is just south of Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo, the Lion located almost overhead.

NEXT WEEK: A full moon and planetary conjunctions by the bucket-full, and more astronomical blathering.

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