The Sky This Week for May 11 to 14
The Eta Aquariid meteor shower, a full Moon, and another exciting things to look for in the sky this week.
By Richard Talcott
Thursday, May 11
Venus appears brilliant in the eastern sky from the time it rises around 4 a.m. local daylight time until close to sunrise nearly two hours later. It stands some 10° above the horizon an hour before the Sun comes up. Shining at magnitude –4.7, it easily ranks as the night sky’s brightest light after the Moon. When viewed through a telescope this morning, Venus spans 32″ and appears one-third lit.
Friday, May 12
One of the spring sky’s finest deep-sky objects, the Beehive star cluster (M44) in the constellation Cancer the Crab, lies high in the western sky after darkness falls. Under a dark sky before the Moon rises (around 10 p.m. local daylight time this evening and nearly an hour later with each passing night), you should be able to spot this star group with your naked eye as a faint and fuzzy cloud. But the Beehive explodes into dozens of stars through binoculars or a small telescope at low power.
The Moon reaches apogee, the farthest point in its orbit around Earth, at 3:51 p.m. EDT. It then lies 252,407 miles (406,210 kilometers) from Earth’s center.
Saturday, May 13
Saturn offers a visual treat all this week. The ringed planet shines at magnitude 0.2 against the background stars of western Sagittarius, rising by 11 p.m. local daylight time and climbing some 30° above the southern horizon around 3 a.m. Tonight finds it in the company of the waning gibbous Moon, which appears some 3° to the planet’s left as the pair rises. When viewed through a telescope this week, Saturn shows an 18″-diameter disk surrounded by a spectacular ring system that spans 41″ and tilts 26° to our line of sight.
Sunday, May 14
Neptune rises around 3 a.m. local daylight time and appears low in the east-southeast before dawn. The distant world glows at magnitude 7.9, so you’ll need binoculars or a telescope to spot it. Fortunately, it lies near a brighter star that will guide you to the planet. This morning, Neptune passes 9′ due south of 6th-magnitude 81 Aquarii. The star shines some five times brighter than the planet. You can confirm your sighting of Neptune through a telescope, which reveals the planet’s 2.3″-diameter disk and blue-gray color.