May Moon at Apogee

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), for this orbit, on Monday 18th. At that time the 26.5-day old waning crescent Moon will be at a distance of 31.88 Earth diameters 252,028 miles (405,600 km) from the Earth.

   On the day of the apogee the thin waning crescent Moon rises about 1-2 hours before sunrise local time. Looking carefully with binoculars you may be able to see nearby 4th magnitude star 20 Ceti, one of the many stars that are part of the constellation Cetus the Whale.

   

   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*

   *Click here to read my 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

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Mars – Jupiter at Heliocentric Conjunction

   Saturday May 16th the outer planets Mars and Jupiter will reach a point in their respective orbit that has them at nearly the same heliocentric coordinates. This a system of tracking the planets as they make their 360o orbit around the Sun. Each Sun orbiting object’s orbital position is measured using degrees, minutes, and seconds of heliocentric longitude. Each object orbits the Sun at a daily rate determined by dividing 360o by the number of days an object takes to complete one orbit around the Sun.
   As the above graphic shows the two planets are arranged in a straight line out from the Sun. The Earth is not part of the line-up. This is a heliocentric view of their orbital positions with the Sun at the Center. A heliocntric longitude based view is not the same as a view from the surface of the Earth where there is a distinctly different view of the two planets.


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Say it Ain’t So!


   According to the web site Physics-Astronomy on May 16th the crescent Moon will be in a conjunction with the inner planet Venus and an outer planet, Jupiter, in a formation looking like a smiley face.

   This type of conjunction has happened in the past including one in 2 B.C. that has been suggested to be the ‘Star of Bethlehem’. More recently this triple conjunction did happen in December 2008, according to the article.
   Click here to see a list of future planetary conjunctions.

   Looking down from above the solar system on May 16th showing the orbital positions of Venus, the Earth, and Jupiter. From this graphic it shows that from the Earth you would have to look toward different directions to see either planet.

   No this will not happen.
   Here are reasons why this article about the conjunction is “fake news”.

   Venus is visible in the evening skies at sunset over the western horizon and sets around 9-10 pm local time. (Rises: 7:23 am – Sets: 10:24 pm)
   Jupiter is visible in the morning skies over the southern horizon and sets during the afternoon local time. (Rises: 12:45 am – Sets: 10:47 am)
   The article does not indicate which crescent Moon. Is this a waxing crescent Moon in the evening or a waning crescent Moon in the morning?
   The Moon is in fact a 22.8-day old waning crescent Moon in the morning skies. However the Moon is closer to Neptune and Dwarf Planet Ceres than it is to either Venus or Jupiter.



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Moon Mars Conjunction x2

   Thursday morning May 14th the last quarter Moon will be about 8-9o to the west from the ‘Red Planet’ Mars. The following morning, Friday May 15th the waning crescent Moon will be about 6-7o from Mars but this time on the east side.



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Moon-Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction

   Tuesday morning May 12th, before sunrise, the 19-day old waning gibbous Moon will be within a few degrees from the outer planets Jupiter and Saturn. All three will fit within the field of view of binoculars.

   
   
   

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May Moon at Descending Node

   Sunday May 10th the 17-day old waning gibbous Moon crosses the plane of the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic.

   On the date of the descending node the waning gibbous Moon will be above the southern horizon at sunrise and will be near the western edge of the Milky Way. However the Moon’s reflected sunlight dims out the glow of the Milky Way. To the east are 4 of the visible planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars. Dwarf Planet Ceres, and Neptune are also part of the line-up along the ecliptic, but both have apparent magnitudes too dim to be naked-eye visible.

   
   
   
   
   

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Moon – Antares Conjunction

   Saturday morning May 9th the 16-day old waning gibbous Moon will be about 6-7o from the heart of Scorpius the Scorpion, the reddish star Antares.
   Joining the waning gibbous Moon will be the several of the visible planets arranged west to east starting with Jupiter, then Saturn, and Mars further east. The Dwarf Planet Ceres is also part of the planet spread but at 8th magnitude Ceres would require binoculars to see.

   
   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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