Skywatch for the week of May 2, 2022
Mon May 2, 2022 SPRING CROSS QUARTER DAY AND VIRGO
Divide the year up into four parts or quarters. Each quarter is marked by the beginning of a new season. Now divide those seasons in half and you get cross-quarter days, the midpoints of each season. We’re now at the cross-quarter day for Spring, called Beltane in the old Celtic calendar, when wooden poles were decorated with flowers and ribbons. Then folks would take those ribbons and dance clockwise, wrapping them around the maypole, mimicking the sun’s motion across the sky through the day. Tonight the stars of the constellation Virgo, the springtime maiden, appear in the southeast after sunset, reminding everyone that the green growing season of crops is waxing toward the summer harvest.
Tue May 3, 2022 ORION AND THE MOON
Tonight the waxing crescent moon appears above the head of the constellation of Orion the Hunter. In mythology, Orion loved Artemis, the goddess of the moon and of the hunt. Now Artemis had a brother, Apollo, the sun god, and he just didn’t like Orion – not good enough for his sister, he decided. One day Apollo found his sister and pointed to Orion, swimming in the ocean, so far out that he appeared as just a little dark speck. He bet Artemis she couldn’t hit such a small target. And so she shot the far-off target with an arrow, not realizing it was Orion’s head. But Orion was given immortality as a constellation. Once a month the moon travels through this part of the sky, allowing Artemis to visit her old hunting companion.
Wed May 4, 2022 ARCTURUS THE INTRUDER
In the eastern sky this evening there is a star that doesn’t belong here – an intruder. It’s Arcturus, the fourth brightest star in our night sky. Most of the stars you see are moving along with our sun, traveling in nearly circular orbits about the hub of our Milky Way galaxy, but Arcturus, an old red giant star, moves at a sharp angle to all the others, plunging along an elliptical path through the disc from up above. Tonight, it’s a mere 37 light years away, that’s a bit more than 200 trillion miles, but in a half million years or so it will have shot down below us, and its ever-increasing distance will make it too dim to see without a telescope. So, enjoy viewing Arcturus while it’s still in the neighborhood!
Thu May 5, 2022 ETA AQUARID METEOR SHOWER
The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is at peak activity tonight. These particular meteors are bits of dust from Halley’s Comet. As they plunge through our atmosphere, they heat up the air around them, causing that momentary streak of light you see in the night sky. Most meteor showers are best after midnight, and this one’s no exception. If that’s too late for you, then go out in the late evening. If skies are clear and dark, face east and look up toward the top of the sky. Use a lounge chair so you can lean back and enjoy the shower. Meteor showers are not like fireworks displays – sometimes you can go for an hour and not see anything; but every so often, you’ll be rewarded by the appearance of a streak of light in the sky, a shooting star or meteor.
Fri May 6, 2022 NAME THAT CONSTELLATION - MAY
Can you identify the thirtieth largest constellation? It is bordered on the north by Lynx the Bobcat and Auriga the Charioteer; on the east by Cancer the Crab; on the south by Canis Minor the Lesser Dog and Monoceros the Unicorn; and on the west by Orion the Hunter and Taurus the Bull. In ancient Italy, it represented Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. The Navajo Indians call its two brightest stars “the Place of Decision,” where the hero Long Sash paused to choose his peoples’ path into the sky country. But we know these stars as Castor and Pollux, and tonight the waxing crescent moon lies just to the west of them. Can you name this star pattern, the third constellation of the zodiac? It is of course, the Gemini, visible in the southwestern sky after sunset.