SOUTHERN UTAH — The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is available online. Send questions and comments to [email protected].
This week and the next two, all five naked-eye planets are visible at one time or another, beginning with Venus and Mercury.
Both are very low in the west-northwest at sunset, and the trick is that you need to look immediately after sunset; you need a flat, low horizon; and binoculars are important. Venus is especially bright but it’s only 11 degrees from the sun (the width of your fist held at arm’s length), while Mercury is twice as far from the sun but is only 1/20 as bright. Mercury is straight above Venus, and the separation between them increases noticeably day by day this week.
Next week, the moon joins them briefly. Venus becomes easier to see night by night through the summer, but Mercury remains visible only until the last week of May. The very bright star well to the left of these planets is Sirius, the “Dog Star,” best seen in winter.
Mars is one-third of the way up the west as darkness falls, in the feet of the Gemini twins, below the stars Castor and Pollux and above Betelgeuse in Orion. It’s only as bright as the brighter stars that surround it, so it doesn’t stand out like it did late last year.
Finally, Jupiter and Saturn rise together at the end of the night, and the best time to see them is 60-90 minutes before sunrise, when they’re both low in the southeast. Jupiter is brighter than any star, while Saturn is 1/13 as bright as Jupiter and is 16 degrees to the upper right of Jupiter. Saturn is a few degrees to the upper left of the moon on Monday morning, and Jupiter is 8 degrees from the moon on the following two mornings.
While checking out Jupiter and Saturn, notice that the summer Milky Way extends from the south, passes overhead, and continues to the north, arcing overhead near the bright star Vega.
The annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on Friday morning, but meteors are visible for a week surrounding that date. These fast meteors travel at 41 miles per second, and they come from dust shed by Halley’s Comet long ago. An observer in a dark location may see one meteor every few minutes, so it’s not spectacular. They radiate from the southeast horizon but appear all over the sky. Look after midnight.
Written by JOHN MOSLEY. John Mosley was program supervisor of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes”. He and his wife live in St. George where he continues to stargaze from his retirement home while serving on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.