Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Starry Splendour over Prince Albert

- Hans Daehne -

With the Autumn Equinox now well behind us, the nights are rapidly becoming longer than the days until June when we will reach Winter Solstice with the longest night on the 21st; then days will become longer again.

In May after the departure of the Summer Constellations we will be able to truly enjoy the Autumn Constellations overhead. They are Leo, the Lion, Bo├Âtes, the herdsman, Corvus, the crow and Virgo, the virgin.

Four planets will also be visible in the nights of May:

Mercury will be an evening object from the end of April until the middle of May but to catch a glimpse of the hasty planet one has to climb up Gordon’s Koppie just at sunset, and observe in that direction because Mercury follows the sun closely. Best days to observe it will be between the 6th and the 9th.

Mars will leave Gemini, the twins on the 5th and move into Cancer where it will pass the open cluster M44, Praesepe during the last third of May, something that can be observed with a pair of binoculars.

Saturn is the bright "star" that moved closer and closer to Regulus, the bright alpha star of Leo where it will become stationary on the 3rd and then move away again towards Virgo.

Jupiter appears around midnight in May and will be the brightest object in the night-sky – except the moon of course.

New Moon is on the 5th and Full Moon on the 20th but on the 12th of May the Moon will be close to Regulus and Saturn.

Ongoing celestial discoveries are continuously contributing to our understanding of the universe. Of special interest in this regard is that some of the 228 known extra solar planets have turned out to be close to earth-like and that the chances have improved to discover an earth-like planet in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri B, one of the closest stars to our solar system.

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