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Nighttrek Report: What to See in the May Sky

Gemini

The highlight of May occurs on Tuesday the 23rd in the Zodiac constellation of Gemini in the west.  The two bright stars in Gemini are the heads of the twins and are easy to spot with the naked eye.   The bright red point to the left of this constellation is the planet Mars.  To the right of Gemini is the brightest planet, Venus.  The beautiful crescent Moon will join the show on that date.

At this time, the Sun is having extreme activity due to a crack in its magnetic field.  This has caused auroras which have been spotted as far south as Northern California and Arizona.  Will we see one this month in Southern California?  Maybe, we hope so. Look north each night after dark. Auroras are visible when a solar storm comes towards us and enters our atmosphere.  These particles interact with gases resulting in a beautiful display of light.  Usually, the Aurora Borealis, also known as “the northern lights,” is only visible around high-altitude regions.  

The Eta Aquariids Meteor Shower is a good meteor shower to see on May 5 and 6.  However, the bad news is that the full Moon occurs at the same time which brightens the sky and decreases meteor visibility.  

Every evening in May, Ursa Major, commonly known as the Big Dipper, floats almost overhead in the northern sky.  It currently appears upside down.   Near the end of the handle and in the constellation Bootes is the giant red star Arcturus. Because of its closeness to Ursa Major, the Greeks called Arcturus the “Guardian of the Bear.”  We wonder why would a bear need a guardian?  Bootes is shaped like a kite.

DAWN PATROL:  The Sun comes up at about 5:50 am in May.  Get up at 5 am to spot the planets Jupiter and Mercury low in the east.

Mark Friday, May 12th, on your calendar to see the International Space Station (ISS).  The ISS will come over at 9:30 pm.  Look northwest as the ISS moves overhead at 9:33 pm.  It will be super bright and easy to see.  Watch as it moves toward the east for another three minutes!  Remember, the ISS does NOT have any blinking lights.

On Sunday, May 7, Vandenburg Space Force Base plans to launch a rocket at 5 pm.  Look northwest. Then on Tuesday, May 30 at 5 pm, VSFB plans to launch two rockets at the same time.  All three rockets are carrying satellites and are part of the Space X program.

In 1977, NASA launched twin Voyager probes. Amazingly, both probes are still working today. This is NASA’s  longest operating mission ever.  Both are still in communication with NASA and have computer chips  with less memory than your cellphone.  Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena is monitoring the probes which are now over 14 billion miles away!  

When not stargazing, Neill Simmons is a Wealth Advisor with LPL Financial in Woodland Hills.  If you have any astronomy or financial questions, he may be reached at (818) 936-2626 or email at neill.simmons@lpl.com.


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