This Weeks Predictable Sky and Space Events (23 – 29 May 2010)

May 22, 2010 | By | Add a Comment
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These notes are intended to provide a casual skywatcher or someone already into amateur astronomy living in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast with a short summary of what is happening in the night sky this week. Most of the information and finder charts will also be useful for observers elsewhere in Eastern Australia.

I am now including information on space missions as well. This week for instance, you will be able to watch live (via webcast) as the Space Shuttle Atlantis lands at the Kennedy Space Centre (Florida, USA) and the maiden launch of the Falcon 9 rocket.

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Predictable Sky and Space Events

All week

The planets Venus, Mars and Saturn are easily visible to the unaided eye in the evening sky all week. The below chart is for Sunday 23 May 2010 for approximately 6.30pm AEST but is useful for the whole week to show where the three planets are located in the early evening sky.

If you are new to astronomy, one of the first questions you are likely to ask is “What is that bright flickering star I can see above the Western horizon as the sky is getting dark?”. That is Venus. The reason for it flickering has to do with the light from it being ‘bent’ or broken into the individual colours of the rainbow/spectrum by the Earth’s atmosphere as it starts to set. The lower down an object is the more atmosphere the light has to travel through. Add in a bit of wind in the upper atmosphere and you start to get a ‘star’ which can change colour and make people wonder if they are seeing a UFO. They aren’t. It is just Venus.

Jupiter and Mercury continue to be easily visible above the Eastern horizon as morning twilight begins. The below chart is for Sunday 23 May 2010 for approximately 5.30am AEST but is useful for the whole week.

If you have patience and at least a pair of 10 x 50 binoculars, you can also look for the planets Uranus and Neptune in the morning sky. Keep in mind though that at least a 6 inch telescope is recommended to easily resolve (see) the discs of each planet. You will also need decent finder charts. One can be found here on the US Sky & Telescope magazine website. Keep in mind that the charts have been correctly orientated for the Northern hemipshere. You need to turn them around so that the orientation of the chart stars match the orientation of stars in our sky. The Sky & Telescope website also have some useful tips on how to set about locating both planets which are useful reading before you step out and look for the real things.

Sunday 23 May 2010

If you want to see the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station docked together, you will need to be an early riser and have a clear sky this morning. If all goes according to the flight schedule, the Shuttle will undock tomorrow making this the last morning (for Eastern Australia at least) that a pass will be visible with the two docked together. For Brisbane, the pass starts at 5.53am and for the Gold Coast (Mermaid Beach) also at 5.53am.

If you are out walking early Sunday morning on Mermaid Beach, look low above the East South East horizon at 5.43am for a bright (-5) Iridium flare. The flare will only last 10 – 15 seconds but will be worth looking for.

Look below and to the left of the Waxing Gibbous Moon for a bright star. Turn even a small telescope towards the star and you will discover it is really the planet Saturn.

Monday 24 May 2010

If you are out walking early Monday morning in the Brisbane CBD, look low above the East North East horizon at 5.37 am for a bright (-6) Iridium flare. The flare will only last 10 – 15 seconds but will be worth looking for.

If you are out walking early Monday morning on Mermaid Beach, look low above the Northern horizon at 4.42am for a bright (-7) Iridium flare. The flare will only last 10 – 15 seconds but will be worth looking for.

Look below and to the right of the Waxing gibbous Moon for a bright star. That star is Spica (the brightest star in the ancient Greek constellation Virgo the Virgin).

Tuesday 25 May 2010

If you are out walking early Tuesday evening in the Brisbane CBD, look above the South East horizon at 6.41pm for a bright (-6) Iridium flare. The flare will only last 10 – 15 seconds but will be worth looking for.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Mercury reaches its greatest elongation West of the Sun (25 degrees).

If you are out walking early Wednesday evening on Mermaid Beach, look above the South East horizon at 6.35pm for a bright (-8) Iridium flare. The flare will only last 10 – 15 seconds but will be worth looking for.

At the time of preparing this page, the Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida (USA) at 10.48pm AEST today. The landing will be webcast on NASA TV.

Friday 28 May 2010

Full Moon. Occurs at 9.07 am AEST.

Look above the Moon for a moderately bright pale orange coloured star. That is Antares (the brightest star in the ancient Greek constellation Scorpius the Scorpion).

Moon furthest South (-25.0 degrees)

Saturday 29 May 2010

At the time of preparing this page, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida (USA) between 1am and 5am this morning. The flight is significant because it is the first launch of this rocket and also because its payload is a flight qualification unit for the Dragon spacecraft. This spacecraft is intended to eventually carry out supply missions to the International Space Station on behalf of NASA. The launch will be webcast (details to be added).

The International Space Station returns to the evening sky tonight. If you are in Brisbane or the Gold Coast (Mermaid Beach), the Station will be briefly visible above the North North East Horizon between 6.20pm and 6.23pm. The station appears to the unaided eye as a bright slowly moving star.

For Further Information

Planet and Moon Rise/Set Times

Planet and Moon rise/set times for 2010 can be found here on this website.

Customised Astronomy & Satellite Viewing information

Information on how to obtain customised astronomy & satellite viewing information for your location can be found here on this website.

Great Red Spot (Jupiter) viewing times

Information on when to see the Great Red Spot on Jupiter in 2010 can be found here on this website. Keep in mind that Jupiter is currently only visible in the morning sky.

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About the Author (Author Profile)

This website is maintained by Paul Floyd. I am an amateur astronomer (and school teacher) with 25 years experience (as at 2015) in running a range of education and public astronomy outreach activities. As of January 2015, I have been providing astronomy information via the WWW for eighteen years.