Hey hey, Sky Fans! Happy Sunday! I hope you’re having a great weekend. Thanks for taking a few minutes to stop by. It’s early, but I already have the Awesome Sauce in the pot for this evening’s rigatoni. It’s the lamb and the tomatoes that make the sauce awesome. Let me know if you’re in the neighborhood.
It’s going to be a really busy next couple of weeks for me, with some possibly exciting things going on (or possibly not), so I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for posting things here. I wanted to make sure I posted this before the week started and I vanish for a bit, though.
Before we get into things, Tuesday May 9, is Thank a Teacher Day (Teacher Appreciation Day?). I’m thankful to all teachers. They do incredible, incredible, amazing things, inside and outside the classroom. Who else act as confidants, friends, peace-makers, cheerleaders, law-enforcement, crowd-control, and sometimes, something not unlike a parent? Seeing my kids’ teachers do the things they do, sometimes they seem like magicians, too. In particular, I’m thankful for two teachers from my life. Miss Carstens, who, in second grade, encouraged me and my interest in astronomy. I still have one of the books I bought when I was in her class all those years ago. Later, in 11th grade, Mrs. Schneider encouraged me to write more. To the teachers who are reading, thank you.
Okay! Coming up in this week’s skies, it’ll be an exciting time for a couple of our nearest neighbors. At the top of the list for my sky-watching dime will be tonight, May 7. Tonight, the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s first launch, the waxing gibbous Moon will be teaming up with the most giant of the giant planets, Jupiter. If you’re the sort of person who likes standing outside pointing up at the sky with your arm outstretched, tonight’s the night for you. The two will be less than two degrees apart; less than the width of a finger held up at arm’s length.
If you have a pair of binoculars, and a curious friend, bring them out with you. The gibbous phases are gorgeous, and a wonderful time to explore the Moon from your yard. As we get closer to full, the shadows will flatten as we move toward lunar noon. For now, as a waxing gibbous, during the Moon’s morning, the shadows are still long, giving texture and depth to the Moon. It’s easy to see it as a world of its own, something more than just a disc floating in the sky.
Then, after you’re done with our Moon, point your binoculars over at Jupiter. Even a modest pair will brighten ol’ Joops and bring out four immeasurably tiny dots along its equator. Those are its four giant, Galilean moons. From innermost to outermost (relative to Jupiter): Io; Europa; Ganymede; and Callisto. From this distance, you can’t see it, but three of those, all but Io, are thought to have giant oceans of water, more than Earth has. Europa is considered one of the mostly likely places in the solar system to have life, other than here on Earth.
Of course, if you go without binoculars, it’s quite a sight. Right there, in the space of one outstretched finger, we have five of our solar system’s six biggest moons (know the other?). If you’ve been looking for a chance to show your someone how amazing and magical our own solar system is, or maybe you need a little extra help yourself, there it is, right there. Of course, this is an optical illusion, a trick of perspective. The Moon and Jupiter will be very close in the sky, but about half a billion (that’s billion with a B) miles apart in real life.
By tomorrow night, May 8, the Moon will move so that it’s more or less alongside the star Spica, the brightest in the constellation Virgo, and one of the stars of the Spring Triangle.
On Tuesday, May 9, the Moon will be in a triangle with two brightest stars in Libra, the scales, the flamboyantly named Zubenelgeubi and Zubenelschamali. Their names come the Arabic words for Southern and Northern Claw, respectively.
“But scales don’t have claws!” You’re probably right. Those stars were named when they were still considered part of Scorpius, the scorpion. I think most of us will agree scales don’t have claws, but scorpions do.
Finally, on Wednesday, May 10, the Full Flower Moon, so named because April showers bring May flowers, will light the night of Bono’s 57th birthday. This time, it’ll be just below Zubenelgeubi and Zubenelschamali, flipping Tuesday’s triangle upside-down.
I hope you have a great week, enjoy the rest of your weekend, and are able to see the show overhead this week. The forecast around here, of course, is for a heavy overcast and some rain tonight, but I hope you can see it.
Thanks, as always, and clear skies, everyone!