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Rare view of Earth and Moon

Juno spacecraft image of Earth and Moon

Earth and Moon, as seen by the Juno spacecraft from a distance of around 10 million kilometres

LOOKING HOMEWARD in its long journey to Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft offered up this rare view of our home planet with its moon. The spacecraft was nearly 10 million kilometres from Earth when it took this photo on August 26, 2011.

From that distance, oceans, land, clouds, and ice blend into a blur of light, a mere dot against the vastness of space. Even fainter and smaller, the Moon provides an additional sense of scale—the Earth and Moon are about 402,000 kilometres apart. (Juno travelled the Earth–Moon distance in less than a day.)

The spacecraft launched on August 5, and will reach Jupiter, another 2,800 million kilometres away, in about five years. The mission team took the photo as part of the first detailed check of the spacecraft’s instruments and subsystems.

“This is a remarkable sight people get to see all too rarely,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a NASA release.

“This view of our planet shows how Earth looks from the outside, illustrating a special perspective of our role and place in the universe. We see a humbling yet beautiful view of ourselves.”

Adapted from information issued by NASA/JPL-Caltech and Holli Riebeek / NASA Earth Observatory.

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10 things to know about Juno

HAVING BEGUN ITS FIVE-YEAR JOURNEY to Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has a long road ahead of it before it can get to work studying the largest planet in the Solar System. The demanding mission will involve a long cruise phase, a hazardous operation phase, and a kamikaze ending.

Here are 10 interesting and fascinating facts about the Juno spacecraft and its target planet.

  • Total flight distance to Jupiter is 2,800 million kilometres. If you could hop in your car and drive non-stop at 100 kilometres per hour, it would take you 3,196 years to cover that distance. Juno will do it in just 5 years!
  • One it reaches Jupiter, the spacecraft will spend 12 months completing 33 huge orbits around the planet.
  • The orbits will go north-south over Jupiter’s poles. This sort of orbit is used when mission planners want to cover every square metre of a planet—as Juno circles, the planet rotates underneath and the spacecraft can ‘map’ the whole globe, strip by strip.
  • The orbit will bring Juno to within 5,000 kilometres of the planet’s cloud tops every 11 days. This will be the closest a spacecraft has ever come to Jupiter, apart from the entry probe released by the Galileo spacecraft. (That probe plunged into Jupiter’s atmosphere on December 7, 1995, sending back data for about 57 minutes before being destroyed by the incredible temperatures and pressures.)
  • Jupiter is surrounded by an enormous and intense radiation field. Mission planners intend to keep Juno out of the worst of it—yet still, over the course of its 12 months investigating the giant planet, the spacecraft will receive a total radiation dose equivalent to 100 million dental X-rays. Ouch!

    A Juno solar panel

    Juno carries three 9m-long solar power panels.

  • Because of that, the spacecraft’s vital innards are protected inside a titanium box, known as ‘the vault’.
  • This is the first mission to go so far from the Sun without a plutonium power source. Instead, Juno has three huge, 9-metre-long high-efficiency solar power panels.
  • Juno is named after the Roman goddess and wife of the mythological figure, Jupiter. Juno was supposed to have the ability to see through clouds, so it is fitting that her name is given to a mission that will see below Jupiter’s thick cloud layers.
  • After 12 months orbiting Jupiter, Juno will be deliberately de-orbited and perform a fiery death plunge into the planet’s atmosphere. This will be done to eliminate the possibility of the spacecraft eventually crashing into one of Jupiter’s moons, potentially contaminating it with any microbes that might have been brought all the way from Earth.
  • Total cost of the mission is about US$1.1 billion, which includes all the development, construction, launch, cruise and operation costs through to the end of the mission on October 16, 2017.

Story by Jonathan Nally, SpaceInfo.com.au. Images courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / KSC.

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LEGO and Galileo go to Jupiter!

LEGO figurines aboard Juno

Three LEGO figurines representing the Roman god Jupiter, his wife Juno and Galileo Galilei are shown here aboard the Juno spacecraft.

  • Juno unmanned spacecraft set for launch to Jupiter
  • Will carry three LEGO figurines of famous characters
  • Will also carry a plaque of Galileo’s writings

THREE LEGO FIGURINES AND A PLAQUE depicting Galileo’s writings are set to launch to Jupiter at the end of this week.

The inclusion of the three 4cm-tall mini-statues, or figurines, is part of a joint public outreach and educational program developed as part of the partnership between NASA and the LEGO Group to inspire children to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief. From Mount Olympus, Juno was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter’s true nature. Juno holds a magnifying glass to signify her search for the truth, while her husband holds a lightning bolt.

The third LEGO crewmember is Galileo Galilei, who made several important discoveries about Jupiter, including the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honour). The miniature Galileo has his telescope with him on the journey.

Galileo’s plaque

Among his many achievements, Galileo Galilei discovered that moons orbited Jupiter in 1610. These satellites—Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto—are also known as the Galilean moons.

The plaque, which was provided by the Italian Space Agency, measures 71 by 51 millimetres, is made of flight-grade aluminium and weighs six grams. It was bonded to Juno’s propulsion bay with a spacecraft-grade epoxy.

Juno plaque dedicated to Galileo Galilei

A plaque dedicated to the famous astronomer Galileo Galilei will be carried aboard NASA's Juno spacecraft on its journey to Jupiter.

The graphic on the plaque depicts a self-portrait of Galileo. It also includes—in Galileo’s own hand—a passage he wrote in 1610 of his observations of Jupiter, archived in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence.

Galileo’s text included on the plaque reads as follows: “On the 11th it was in this formation—and the star closest to Jupiter was half the size than the other and very close to the other so that during the previous nights all of the three observed stars looked of the same dimension and among them equally afar; so that it is evident that around Jupiter there are three moving starsinvisible till this time to everyone.”

Artist's impression of the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

Artist's impression of the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

Launch due early Saturday morning

Juno is scheduled to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral. The solar-powered spacecraft will orbit Jupiter’s poles 33 times to find out more about the gas giant’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere and investigate the existence of a solid planetary core.

The launch period for Juno opens August 6, 2011, and extends through August 26 (Sydney time zone dates). For an August 6 liftoff, the launch window opens at 1:34am and closes at 2:33am (that’s 11:34am to 12:33pm US EDT on August 5).

More information:

NASA Juno mission pages

Southwest Research Institute June mission pages

Juno mission on Twitter

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL. Images courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / KSC / LEGO.

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What’s up? Night sky for August 2011

Stargazers with telescopes

This month, Saturn will be the planet to watch in the western part of the sky after sunset.

FOUR PLANETS ARE VISIBLE THIS MONTH, although you’ll have to be quick to spot Mercury, as it starts the month low on the western horizon after sunset and within about a week will have become lost in the Sun’s glare.

Slightly higher in the western sky after sunset is Saturn, shining brightly and visited by the Moon on the 4th.

Jupiter and Mars are still the luminaries of the morning sky—Jupiter high in the north, and Mars low in the north-east. Their brighter sibling, Venus, will not be visible this month, as it is on the opposite side of the Sun from us.

Except where indicated, all of the phenomena described here can be seen with the unaided eye. And unless otherwise specified, dates and times are for the Australian Eastern Standard Time zone, and sky directions are from the point of view of an observer in the Southern Hemisphere.

August 1

Look for the very thin crescent Moon low in the west after sunset. The planet Mercury will be about seven Moon widths above and to the right. Mercury is becoming much harder to see now, and over the next week will sink lower and lower toward the horizon and become lost in the Sun’s glare. The innermost planet will reappear in our morning sky out to the east next month.

August 3

Today the Moon will be at the closest point to Earth in its orbit, called perigee, at 7:00am. The distance between the two bodies will be 365,755 kilometres.

August 4

Look for the Moon and Saturn close together in the west in the early evening sky.

August 5

The Moon and the star Spica—the brightest star in the constellation Virgo—will appear close together tonight. The Moon will be about six Moon widths above the star.

August 6

It is First Quarter Moon today at 9:08pm. First Quarter is a good time to look at the Moon through a telescope, as the sunlight angle means the craters and mountains throw nice shadows, making it easier to get that 3D effect.

August 8

Now almost three-quarters full, the Moon will be near the star Antares—the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. Antares has a reddish colour, and to the naked eye it looks a bit like the planet Mars. In fact, its name means ‘rival of Mars’.

Stargazers

Make the most of the late-winter nights by doing some stargazing.

August 14

Full Moon will occur today at 4:58am.

August 16

If you’ve been wondering why Venus doesn’t appear to be in our evening or morning skies, it’s because it is lost in the glare of the Sun. Today marks its ‘superior conjunction’, which means that it is on the exact opposite side of the Sun from us.

August 17

Mercury, which has been lost in the glare of the setting Sun for a while now, today reaches ‘inferior conjunction’, which means that it is exactly between us and the Sun. Mercury will reappear low in the east in the morning sky next month.

August 19

Today the Moon will be at the farthest point from Earth in its orbit, called apogee, at 2:24am. The distance between the two bodies will be 405,159 kilometres.

August 21

Look out to the east this morning, and you’ll see the Moon and what looks like a very bright star above and to its left. That’s not a star; it’s the planet Jupiter. Even if you don’t have a telescope, a normal pair of binoculars should reveal up to four of Jupiter’s largest moons, looking like small pinpricks of light to one or both sides of the planets.

August 22

It is Last Quarter Moon today at 9:55pm.

August 26

If you’re an early riser, take a look out to the east and you’ll see the Moon very close to the planet Mars.

August 29

New Moon occurs today at 1:04pm.

August 31

Today the Moon will again be at the closest point to Earth in its orbit, perigee, this time at 3:36am. The distance between the two bodies will be 360,857 kilometres.

If you have any questions or comments on the night sky, we’d be happy to answer them. Please use the Feedback Form below. Happy stargazing!

Images courtesy IAU.

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What’s up? Night sky for July 2011

Telescope inside a dome at night

Stargazing during winter is chilly, but the nights can often be crisp and clear. And there's plenty to see this month!

THE INNERMOST PLANET, Mercury, has delighted us in the morning sky for the past couple of months, but this month it makes a reappearance in our evening skies, in the west after sunset. It’ll be quite easy to see, above the horizon for around 100 minutes after the Sun sets at the beginning of the month, increasing to almost two-and-a-half hours after the Sun sets by the end of the month.

Also in the evening sky, to the north-west, is Saturn. The famous ringed planet will be on show during the first half of the night, setting around 11:00pm by the end of the month.

In the morning sky to the east, Jupiter and Mars are still putting on a show before sunrise.

Venus is too close to the Sun to be seen this month.

Except where indicated, all of the phenomena described here can be seen with the unaided eye. And unless otherwise specified, dates and times are for the Australian Eastern Standard Time zone, and sky directions are from the point of view of an observer in the Southern Hemisphere.

July 1

There will be a partial eclipse of the Sun today, but you’ll have to be an albatross or maybe a seal in order to see it. That’s because the Sun’s shadow will fall across a remote area of ocean between South Africa and Antarctica. Unless there are some fishing boats or a scientific expedition in the area, it’s entirely possible that no one will witness this eclipse which, at its maximum, will see less than 10% of the Sun’s disc covered by the Moon. And speaking of the Moon, New Moon occurs today at 6:54pm Sydney time (08:54 Universal Time).

 

View of the night sky for July 3, 2011

July 3, 2011, 5:15pm: The thin crescent Moon will sit just above the planet Mercury in the western sky after sunset.

 

July 3

Take a look out to the west after sunset, and you should see the planet Mercury above the horizon, and above it will be the thin crescent Moon.

July 5

Earth reaches aphelion today (or July 4 in the western hemisphere), which is the farthest point from the Sun in our orbit. The distance between Earth and Sun will be 152.1 million kilometres.

There’ll be an interesting sight out to the east in the morning sky today. The planet Mars will appear close to the star Aldebaran. Both are of similar brightness, and both have similar colouring—a sort of orangey-red.

In this evening’s sky, the Moon will sit above the bright star Regulus. Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation Leo. The amazing thing about Regulus is that, although to the naked eye it appears to be one star, in reality it is composed of four stars grouped into two pairs, all gravitationally bound to each other! This sort of thing is not too uncommon—many other stars are members of double, triple or quadruple systems too.

Position of the Moon, Spica and Saturn on July 8, 2011

July 8, 2011, 7:15pm: The Moon will be bracketed by the planet Saturn and the star Spica, in the north-western sky.

 

 

July 8

It is First Quarter Moon today at 4:29pm Sydney time (06:29 Universal Time). First Quarter is a good time to look at the Moon through a telescope, as the sunlight angle means the craters and mountains throw nice shadows, making it easier to get that 3D effect. Also today, the Moon will be at the closest point to Earth in its orbit, called perigee, at 12:05am (14:05 on July 7, Universal Time). The distance between the two bodies will be 369,565 kilometres. And finally, tonight the Moon will appear reasonably near the planet Saturn.

July 9

A little more than half full, the Moon will appear quite close to the star Spica tonight. Spica, a blue giant star, is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo and the 15th-brightest star in our night sky.

Position of the Moon and Antares on July 12, 2011

July 12, 2011, 8:00pm: High in the northern sky, the Moon and the star Antares (the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius) will appear close together.

 

 

July 12

The now almost-full Moon will appear quite close to the star Antares tonight. Antares means “the rival of Mars’, and it’s not hard to see why, as it’s ruddy colour makes it look just like the fourth planet from the Sun. Antares is a red supergiant star, 800 times bigger than the Sun!

Today, the eighth planet from the Sun, Neptune, has completed one full orbit of the Sun since its discovery in 1846. Neptune takes almost 165 years to complete one circuit of the Sun. Neptune is too faint to be seen with the naked eye, but it is within the range of medium-and-larger backyard telescopes, if you know exactly where to look. This chart, provided by the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, will help you to find it.

July 15

Full Moon occurs today at 4:40pm Sydney time (06:40 Universal Time).

July 20

Mercury reaches its greatest angle from the Sun today, so if you have a clear evening sky, why not take the opportunity to go out and spot it in the west after sunset?

Position of Mercury on July 20, 2011

July 20, 2011, 5:20pm: Mercury will be at its greatest angle from the Sun today, and visible in the west after sunset.

July 22

Today the Moon will reach the farthest point in its orbit around the Earth, called apogee, at a distance of 404,356 kilometres at 8:48am Sydney time (22:48 on July 21, Universal Time).

July 23

It is Last Quarter Moon today at 3:02pm Sydney time (05:02 Universal Time).

July 24

Slightly less than half full, the Moon will appear close to the planet Jupiter in this morning’s sky. Jupiter will be about 12 Moon widths above the Moon. Look a little further east and you’ll see Mars too. In between will be the beautiful star cluster called the Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters. Use binoculars or a small telescope and you’ll be delighted with the view.

Position of the Moon, Jupiter and Mars on July 24, 2011

July 24, 2011, 6:20am: The Moon and two planets—Jupiter and Mars—will be visible in the north-eastern sky before sunrise. See if you can spot the Pleiades star cluster as well.

July 25-28

In the western sky after sunset, the planet Mercury will appear close to the star Regulus (see July 5 for more information on this star).

July 28

The crescent Moon will appear very close to the planet Mars in this morning’s sky. They’ll be separated by only three Moon widths.

July 31

New Moon occurs today at 4:40am Sydney time (18:40 on July 30, Universal Time).

If you have any questions or comments on the night sky, we’d be happy to answer them. Please use the Feedback Form below. Happy stargazing!

Images courtesy IAU.

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Worlds that pass in the night

EARLIER THIS MONTH, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft—currently in orbit about Mars—performed a special manoeuvre that enabled it to observe an unusual alignment of Jupiter and the martian moon Phobos. The impressive images have now been processed into a movie of this rare event.

At the moment when Mars Express, Phobos and Jupiter aligned on 1 June 2011, there was a distance of 11,389 kilometres between the spacecraft and Phobos, and a further 529 million kilometres to Jupiter.

The High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express was kept fixed on Jupiter for the event, ensuring that the planet remained static in the frame while Phobos ‘drifted’ through. The operation returned a total of 104 images over a period of 68 seconds, all of them taken using the camera’s super-resolution channel.

By timing the exact moment Jupiter passed behind Phobos, the observation is helping to verify and improve our knowledge of the orbital position of the martian moon.

Martian moon Phobos

Phobos is the larger of Mars' two small moons.

Phobos is the larger of Mars’ two moons, the other being Deimos. Phobos is shaped a bit like a potato, with dimensions of 27 x 22 18 kilometres. It is thought to be covered by about 100 metres of regolith…broken rock and dust.

Phobos is named after the Greek god of the same name, and means ‘fear’. Deimos also is named after a Greek god, and means ‘dread’. Both were the son of the Greek god of Mars, Ares.

The images shown here were processed at the Department of Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing at the Institute of Geological Sciences of the Freie Universität Berlin.

Adapted from information issued by ESA. Video courtesy ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum). Phobos image courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona.

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What’s up? Night sky for June 2011

Skywatchers with telescopes

Stargazers are gearing up for the June 16, 2011, total eclipse of the Moon.

THREE OF THE NAKED-EYE BRIGHTNESS PLANETS will be visible in the eastern sky before sunrise this month. These are Venus, Jupiter and Mars. Mercury has left the scene, having dropped down to the horizon and become lost in the glare of the Sun.

In the evening sky, Saturn is holding it’s own, shining high and bright.

The major sky event this month for Australian skywatchers, is the total eclipse of the Moon on the morning of June 16.

Except where indicated, all of the phenomena described here can be seen with the unaided eye. And unless otherwise specified, dates and times are for the Australian Eastern Standard Time zone, and sky directions are from the point of view of an observer in the Southern Hemisphere.

June 2

New Moon occurs today at 7:03am Sydney time (June 1, 21:03 Universal Time). New Moon is the opposite of Full Moon, and means

June 7-8

The almost half-full Moon will be near the star Regulus (the brightest star in the constellation Leo) over these two days. On the 7th it will be to the left of Regulus, and on the 8th it will be above it.

June 9

It is First Quarter Moon today at 12:11pm Sydney time (02:11 Universal Time). First Quarter is a good time to look at the Moon through a telescope, as the sunlight angle means the craters and mountains are throwing nice shadows, making it easier to get that 3D effect.

June 10

Look for the Moon to the left of the planet Saturn in tonight’s evening sky.

June 11

Tonight the Moon will appear quite close to the star Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo.

June 12

Today the Moon will be at the closest point in its orbit, called perigee. The distance between the two bodies will be 367,189 kilometres.

June 13

The planet Mercury has been getting lower and lower in our morning sky, and has been lost in the glare of the Sun for a couple of weeks. Today, it reaches “superior conjunction“, which means that it is on the opposite side of the Sun from us.

June 14

Look for the almost-full Moon to the left of the planet Antares in tonight’s evening sky. Antares is a red supergiant star, 800 times the size of our Sun!

Total lunar eclipse

Don't miss the total lunar eclipse on the morning of June 16, 2011.

June 16 – total eclipse of the Moon

Full Moon occurs today at 6:14am Sydney time (June 15, 20:14 Universal Time). But the big news for today is the total eclipse of the Moon, which for Australian observers will occur in the hours before sunrise. The Moon will be in the western sky, and will gradually move into the Earth shadow and become dark, dropping lower and lower toward the horizon. During a total eclipse, the Moon takes on a reddish hue—sometimes pale, sometimes intense. This occurs because some of the Sun’s light filters through Earth’s atmosphere and is refracted onto the Moon.

For Australian observers, there’s more information on the total lunar eclipse (including timings) at the IceInSpace site.

For New Zealand observers, please see the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand’s site.

June 18

Low in the east before sunrise, you’ll see bright Venus below and to the left of a ruddy-coloured star. This is Aldebaran, a giant orange-coloured star about 65 light-years from Earth.

June 22

Today is the Southern Hemisphere’s midwinter solstice, which means that the Sun is at its furthest north in the sky (at 3:17am Sydney time, or June 21 at 17:17 Universal Time). This is the day when the hours of sunlight are at their minimum.

Stargazer looking at the sky

Enjoying the evening sky

June 23

It is Last Quarter Moon today at 9:48pm Sydney time (11:48 Universal Time).

June 24

Today the Moon will reach the farthest point in its orbit, apogee (the opposite of perigee), at a distance from Earth of 404,274 kilometres.

June 26

Have a look out to the east this morning, and you’ll see the crescent Moon quite near Jupiter.

June 29

Today the very thin crescent Moon will be just below the planet Mars in the pre-dawn eastern sky.

June 30

Finally, the very thin crescent Moon will appear above and to the left of the planet Venus. You can’t miss Venus – apart from the Sun and the Moon, it is the brightest object in the sky.

And finally, here’s the terrific Tanya Hill from the Melbourne Planetarium, with her Sky Notes for this month:

If you have any questions or comments on the night sky, we’d be happy to answer them. Please use the Feedback Form below. Happy stargazing!

Images courtesy IAU.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

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What’s up? Night sky for May 2011

Stargazers looking at the sky

May will be a great month for planet watchers, with four bright planets visible to the east before dawn.

THIS WILL BE A FANTASTIC MONTH for planet watchers, with a series of attractive close groupings in the eastern morning sky. Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter will be in the same part of the sky, and you’ll get the chance to watch their shifting positions as the month progresses.

Why do they appear to move around relative to each other? It’s because they’re on independent orbits about the Sun and travelling at different speeds. The Earth is moving around the Sun too, and our shifting perspective adds to the apparent sky motion. In fact, the word ‘planet’ comes from the Greek, and means ‘wandering star’.

Except where indicated, all of the phenomena described here can be seen with the unaided eye. And unless otherwise specified, dates and times are for the Australian Eastern Standard Time zone, and sky directions are from the point of view of an observer in the Southern Hemisphere.

May 1

There’ll be a fantastic planetary get-together in this morning’s eastern sky. First, Jupiter and Mars will be just less than half a degree (roughly one Moon width) apart. Jupiter will be the brighter, whitish-coloured one on the right, with ruddy-coloured Mars on the left. Also present will be the crescent Moon … below and to the left of the planet Venus, and left of the planet Mercury, and above and to the left of the Jupiter-Mars pair. It’ll be a fantastic sight! Why not try taking a photo of it?

May 3

New Moon occurs today at 3:51pm Sydney time (06:51 Universal Time).

The Moon

The Moon is always a popular target for stargazers.

May 7

The planets Venus and Mercury will be side-by-side in this morning’s eastern sky, only 1.5 degrees apart (about three Moon widths).

May 8

Mercury, the innermost planet, will be at its greatest angular distance (27 degrees) from the Sun this morning.

May 11

It is First Quarter Moon today at 5:33am Sydney time (May 10, 20:33 Universal Time). The period around First Quarter is a good time to look at the Moon through a telescope, as the sunlight angle means the craters and mountains throw nice shadows, making it easier to get that 3D effect.

Also this evening, the Moon will appear close to Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo. The amazing thing about Regulus is that, although to the naked eye it appears to be one star, in reality it is composed of four stars grouped into two pairs, all gravitationally bound to each other! This sort of thing is not too uncommon, as many other stars are members of double, triple or quadruple systems too.

May 12

Another planetary grouping in this morning’s eastern sky, with Venus only half a degree (one Moon width) to the right of Jupiter, and Mercury about three Moon widths above and to the left.

May 14

This evening the almost-full Moon will be perched about 7 degrees above the planet Saturn.

May 15

Tonight the Moon, just a smidge short of being full, will be only 1.5 degrees (about three Moon widths) above and to the right of the star Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. Spica is a blue giant star, 7.4 times as big as our Sun, and the 15th-brightest star in our night sky. Also today, the Moon will be at the closest point in its orbit around the Earth, called perigee. The distance between the two bodies will be 362,133 kilometres.

Diagram showing planets in the morning sky

Four planets are visible in the morning sky. This diagram shows the view on May 16.

May 16

Yet another arrangement of planets in our morning sky to the east. Venus will be about three Moon widths below and to the left of Mercury, about eight Moon widths below and to the right of Jupiter, and about six Moon widths above ruddy-coloured Mars.

May 17

Full Moon occurs today at 8:09pm Sydney time (11:09 Universal Time).

May 18

Tonight, look for the Moon about four degrees (eight Moon widths) below and to the left of Antares. Antares is a red supergiant star, the brightest star in the constellation Leo and the 16th-brightest star in our night sky. And get this—Antares is 800 times the diameter of our Sun, so you can see why they call it a supergiant!

May 22-31

Venus, Mars and Mercury will do a dance with each other in the morning sky over the final week of the month, in close proximity to one another. Have a look each morning and see how the arrangement has changed.

May 25

It is Last Quarter Moon today at 3:52am Sydney time (May 24, 18:52 Universal Time).

May 27

Today the Moon will reach the farthest point in its orbit, apogee, at a distance from Earth of 405,003 kilometres.

May 30-31

The crescent Moon will join the Mars, Venus, Mercury triplet in the morning sky.

And here’s Melbourne Planetarium‘s fabulous astronomer, Tanya Hill, to show us what the month’s sky will look like in motion:

If you have any questions or comments on the night sky, we’d be happy to answer them. Please use the Feedback Form below. Happy stargazing!

Images courtesy IAU / TWAN / Babak A. Tafreshi / Andreas O. Jaunsen / IYA2009 / Galileoscope.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

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Voyager – the journey continues

AFTER 33 YEARS, NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft are still going strong and still sending home information. This video features highlights of the Voyager journeys to the outer planets, and looks at their current status, at the edge of our Solar System, poised to cross over into interstellar space.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / JPL.

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Planets all in a row

EARLY-RISING AUSTRALASIAN SKYWATCHERS are in for a treat this coming Saturday morning, April 30, as four of the naked-eye planets and the crescent Moon all come together in the morning sky before dawn.

In the video above, Melbourne Planetarium’s marvellous astronomer, Tanya Hill, explains when and where to see the spectacle.

And you can keep up-to-date with sky happenings with SpaceInfo.com.au’s monthly Whats’ Up? section.

Video courtesy of Museum Victoria.

Get SpaceInfo.com.au daily updates by RSS or email! Click the RSS Feed link at the top right-hand corner of this page, and then save the RSS Feed page to your bookmarks. Or, enter your email address (privacy assured) and we’ll send you daily updates. Or follow us on Twitter, @spaceinfo_oz

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