Sun rises at 5:36am
Sun sets at 6:43pm
Moon phase: Third Quarter Moon, waning
Moon rises at 12:20am
Moon sets at 11:55am
The third quarter moon will be rising about midnight this weekend, which means the early evening is an ideal time to gaze at the stars and planets. In fact, this is a great time to take in the three particular planets, as they are at an optimal position right now for viewing.
At sunset overhead is Jupiter, the “brightest star in the sky” – although technically not a star. Look just to the south of due East to see Mars and Saturn rising in the early evening. Saturn is – this weekend, Sunday to be exact – at the very best viewing position it will have for many years. So get out your telescopes and binoculars and give it a look. As with all the planets, you’ll find Saturn along the same path that the sun and moon travel across the sky. Try looking first for the brilliant Mars in the east after nightfall, and then look for fainter Saturn and the star Antares below Mars. Golden Saturn is fainter than Mars but brighter than the ruddy-coloured Antares. The three form an easily noticed triangle.
Saturn is the most distant world we can easily see with unaided eye. It shines as brightly as a bright star. But it does not shine as brightly as Mars and Jupiter.
As Earth moves around the sun, the Earth’s change of position will cause Mars and Saturn to rise four minutes earlier daily, or one-half hour earlier each week. Best of all, you can use Mars to locate Saturn for months to come. In fact, Mars and Saturn will stage their conjunction (closest encounter by our point of view) in the evening sky on August 25, 2016; at that time, both worlds will fit within a single binocular field.
When the Earth finally passes in between Saturn and the sun on the night of June 2-3, Earth will come closest to Saturn for the year, and Saturn, in turn, will shine at its most brilliant for the year of 2016. So, in less a week from now, the planet Saturn will be at opposition (directly opposite from the sun in our sky). Saturn will be out all night long at that juncture.
When the third quarter moon rises at midnight, look to its left to see the Great Square of Pegasus. We know this name for the legend of the famed winged white horse that is one of the best known images from ancient Greece. The story goes that a certain hero named Bellerophon found Pegasus drinking at the spring of Peirene in Corinth and tamed him with a golden bridle given to him by Athena. Ascending into the sky on the divine horse, Bellerophon swooped down on the Monster, Chimaera, killing it with arrows and a lance. Afterwards, Bellerophon seems to have got over-proud and he attempted to fly up on Pegasus to join the gods on Olympus. Before he got there, though, he fell back to Earth. However, Pegasus completed the trip and Zeus used him for a while to carry his thunder and lightning round the heavens.
To find Pegasus, look for a near-square shape of bright stars, very large and slightly tipped onto one corner. If you’re out late on Sunday night (Monday morning), look for a little known Meteor shower called the Eta Pegasids which radiates out from an area near Pegasus every year on May 30.
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.
Contributed and researched by Lisa Davis-Burnett