Sun rises at 5:46am
Sun sets at 6:32pm
Moon phase: Fourth quarter gibbous, waning to crescent
Moon rises just after midnight
Moon sets at 11:30am
After taking in a glorious sunset, the darkening western sky will show our good friend Orion the Hunter poised in a reclining posture, sinking towards the horizon. Orion’s three-star belt is easily identified as we mentioned last weekend. Another feature of Orion is another three-star line, smaller, located below his belt. Think of it as his sword or dagger. The middle star in the “sword” is actually not a star but a nebula, a gas-and-dust zone of the universe. Known as the Orion Nebula, or M-42, it is a region where stars are being formed. Use a telescope to peer into this interesting nebula first identified by Ptolemy in the second century AD.
Turn from gazing west to the east around 8:45pm to watch Mars rise, followed quickly by Antares just to the right of Mars. By 10 minutes after nine, Saturn will rise up to create a tight triangle of bright stars. Use a telescope or binoculars to zoom in on Saturn, its rings and moons are gorgeous to observe.
Turn south, to your right, to take in the Southern Cross, low in the sky; and then to the north to see Ursa Major, aka the Big Dipper.
More or less directly overhead from 7:30 to 10:00, you’ll make out Jupiter, our largest planet. If you have a proper astronomical telescope, you might choose to zoom in on this giant and observe its larger moons, its famous red spot in its swirling atmosphere, and its other features. However, when your target is directly overhead it, ordinary scope or binoculars can be difficult to aim, so if you don’t mind late nights, the view of Jupiter improves when it is closer to the horizon. From midnight to 2:00am Jupiter is easier to focus on, and offers good viewing possibilities.
May 5 & 6
The 2016 Eta Aquarid meteor shower is expected to produce the greatest number of meteors in the wee hours before dawn on May 5 and 6. However, the broad peak of the Eta Aquarid shower may present a decent showing of meteors during the predawn hours on May 4 and May 7, too.Give yourself at least an hour of viewing time for watching any meteor shower. Meteors tend to come in spurts that are interspersed by lulls. Also, it can take as long as 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark.
You need no special equipment to watch a meteor shower, but a little luck always helps. Meteor watching is a lot like fishing. Sometimes you catch a good number of them and sometimes you don’t.
The Eta Aquarid meteors seem to radiate from the faint star Eta Aquarii located in front of the constellation Aquarius, the Water Bearer. This area of the sky is below the horizon until about 4:30am, but you don’t have to locate the Water Jar, or the radiant of the shower, to enjoy the Eta Aquarids. These meteors fly every which way across the sky, in front of numerous constellations. Find a dark, open sky away from artificial lights, and sprawl out on a reclining lawn chair to comfortably watch the wondrous night time attraction. At our latitude, the Eta Aquarids can produce up to 40 meteors per hour.
Halley’s Comet is the source of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Every year, our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of Halley’s Comet in late April and May, so bits and pieces from this comet light up the night time as Eta Aquarid meteors. This shower is said to be active from April 19 to May 20, although Earth ploughs most deeply into this stream of comet debris around May 5 or 6. By the way, our planet also crosses the orbital path of Halley’s Comet at the other end of the year, giving rise to the Orionid meteor shower, which is usually at its best in the predawn hours on or near October 21.
If you are out later on in the week, each star rises about four minutes earlier each day than written here, and the moon rises 50 minutes later.
Researched & compiled by Lisa Davis-Burnett