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Touring the Skies By: Jim Bonser (

April 26, 2013
Northern-Sun Print
Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. No bright comet in the western skies this month but there will be a very close grouping of three bright planets instead. To tell you the truth, comet PanStarrs was not the great comet we were hoping for and without at least binoculars, you would have been very fortunate to even glimpse it. My wife Deb and I managed to get a few pictures, but the comet barely showed up. Oh well, that is part of the adventure and Deb and I had a good time driving all over central Iowa trying to get a clear shot of the western horizon - no easy task in cloudy Iowa! Fortunately, the beautiful conjunction of the three planets: Venus, Jupiter and Mercury should be much easier to find as long as the clouds cooperate. Jupiter will be visible all month in the west shortly after sunset. Each night it will move slightly closer to the horizon where on the weekend of Saturday, May 18 and Sunday May 19, Venus will begin to clear the tree tops at around 9:00 PM. Within a few days, Mercury will join the party, although viewing mercury will be much more difficult in the twilight skies. Try using binoculars, but be very careful to wait until the sun has completely set. Even a brief look at the sun with binoculars will burn your retina and cause permanent blindness. Don’t risk it; wait until the sun has set! The best arrangement of the planets in my opinion will begin about May 24th when they will form a very nice long triangle with Jupiter at the apex and Venus and Mercury forming the narrow base. Bright Venus is the one closest to the horizon, of course. They will move closer together until they form an almost perfect equilateral triangle Sunday evening May 25th. Let’s hope for clear skies for this one, it will be a beautiful conjunction; definitely worth setting up a camera on a tripod and capturing them in the beautiful sunset colors! As the month comes to a close, Jupiter sinks closer and closer to the horizon as Mercury climbs above Venus. On the last day of the month, they form a nice straight line, all three of them spaced evenly apart; another chance for a striking picture in my humble opinion. I will mark my calendar and give it a try if the weather will cooperate, how about you? Mercury, Venus and Jupiter are not the only planets in the sky this month. Although it will not be passing close to any other planets this month, Saturn really does not need any companions to make it an attractive target. Saturn is just barely in the constellation Virgo, just a little west of the border between Virgo and Libra, The Scales. It forms a nice triangle with two of my favorite named stars: Zubeneschemali (Zoo-ben-es-shamalee) and Zebenelgenubi (Zoo-ben-el-gen-oobee). I just love saying those names and letting them roll off my tongue. Sort of reminds me of Obiwan Kenobi of Star Wars. It is worth mentioning that on Monday morning May 6th, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower will peak. It will be best viewed a couple of hours before sunrise. Unlike me, if you are able to keep your eyes open at that time of the day, you may spot several of these fast, very bright meteors. If you do, keep in mind that you are watching little bits of Halley’s comet burn up in our upper atmosphere. It is possible to see up to 30 or 40 per hour at the peak, and some leave bright and very persistent trains - sort of like the con trails left by jet airplanes. As I write this in mid-April, we ‘enjoyed’ a ridiculous (for April) high of 37 degrees today. I am so looking forward to much warmer May days and nights! Clear Skies!


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