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Nighttrek Report: What to See in the May Sky

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The highlight of this month is the Eta Aquarlid Meteor Shower on Sunday and Monday night, May 4 and 5.  The meteor shower goes on all night until dawn the next day.  Stay warm and try to get out of the city lights.  The earliest record of a meteor shower was found on a stone tablet in Persia in 36 BC.

The full “Flower Moon” on May 23 is an usually a beautiful sight.  This month it is even better thanks to the famous red star, Antares, which will be near the full Moon all night long.  This is called a conjunction when two celestial objects appear to be next to each other.  Within the movement of the night sky, conjunctions happens regularly.

The constellation, Ursa Major, better known as the Big Dipper, is still high in the north.  The two brightest stars in the bowl point to the North Star, Polaris.  Polaris is not the brightest star in the sky, but it is the only star that doesn’t move and stays at true north, which is why is it used for directional assistance.

The Great Total Solar Eclipse of April 2024 was one for the books.  Most of the country had cloud covering which cleared right before the start of the eclipse.  If you didn’t see this one, mark your calendars for the next one on August 12, 2026.  This total solar eclipse begins in Greenland, travels across Iceland, moves towards Ireland and ends in Spain. Most people have seen a partial eclipse but it doesn’t compare to the total eclipse experience.  Put it on your “bucket list!”

Comets are like cats – they have tails and do precisely what they want!  There is a comet coming around the Sun which might be visible later in the month.  Look low on the western horizon on the 30 and 31 of May.  Binoculars will help you spot it just after sunset.

If you are up around 5 am on May 9, look east to see the planet Mercury.  It is bright but very small.  Mercury is the first planet from the Sun and the smallest in the Solar System. It is named after the Roman god Mercurius, god of commerce and communication, and the messenger of the gods. Mercury travels around the Sun in 88 days.

In NASA news, the Voyager I probe is sending back messages.  Impressively, it  has been in space since 1977 and is a staggering 15 billion miles from Earth.  Voyager’s communications take about 22 hours to be picked up by NASA.

On Saturday, May 18, the Griffith Park Observatory will be holding a FREE Star Party on the front lawn.  This event begins at dusk and ends at 10 pm.  There will be many telescopes to see the night sky.  The National Park system is also holding a FREE stargazing party.  Check NPS.gov for further information.  The night sky at the Grand Canyon star party would be a great place for seeing stars clearly.

Vandenberg Space Force Base plans to launch over 10 rockets in May!   Keep in mind that very frequently launches are changed or canceled at the last minute so check their website for exact days and times often.  

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 emailed at neill.simmons@lpl.com.


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