This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.
Last month you learned how to find the North Pole or the North Star by using the two pointer stars in the constellation Ursa Major (Big Dipper). This star (Polaris), that seems to never move, belongs to a separate constellation called Ursa Minor or the Little Dipper. It is not as large and bright as the Big Dipper, only having two stars with any brightness at all and the North Star being one of them. Locating this smaller dipper is fairly difficult. It might be best to take out your star charts and compare it to the real thing in the sky.
It just amazes me how they came up with a bear of any kind in either dipper. Good imagination, I guess. I have yet to see a bear with such a long tail as these two have. There must be some reason why people associate bears, usually polar bears, with these constellations. When Europeans landed in North America, they found that some of the Native American tribes also call Ursa Major a bear.
If you happen to find yourself up just before sunrise any time this month, take a look at the three planets in the east looking back at you: Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. On May 22, Jupiter’s moon Io will traverse (cross in front of) the jovian disk. You won’t be able to see Io itself, but its shadow. At times you can see one of the moons to the side of Jupiter and its shadow casting on the surface of the planet. You will need a decent size telescope for this view.
The nights are still a little chilly under the stars. So if you can bear it, bundle up and get out there this weekend with your whole family and see what you can find. Who knows, maybe the Little Dipper?
May Sky Watch
May 16: Moon passes 4° south of Neptune
May 18: Moon is at apogee (252,018 miles from Earth)
May 20: Moon passes 4° south of Uranus
May 22: Mercury passes 0.9° south of Venus
May 22: New Moon
May 23: Moon passes 4° south of Venus
May 24: Moon passes 3° south of Mercury
May 29: First Quarter Moon