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Galaxy Club

Tonight's Sky

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Click here for Dave Leake's preview of sky events for 2015!

For: May 18-24

Don’t look for the Moon in the sky tonight as it’s “new.” But that means we can look for a thin crescent Moon in our evening sky this week. Thursday evening the Moon is to the lower left of Venus. By Sunday the Moon makes a nice triangle with Jupiter and the heart of Leo, the Lion, Regulus. Friday evening the planet Saturn comes to “opposition,” situated in the head of our celestial scorpion. It will rise in the southeast as the Sun sets. Saturday, CU Astronomical Society telescopes will visit Market at the Square in the morning and then venture out to their rural observatory ( for their monthly open house, weather permitting. Why not stop by both?

For: May 25-31

Tonight is a good night to sit outside and check out the first quarter Moon. To the Moon’s upper right is the star Regulus, the heart of Leo, the Lion. Regulus is the base of what appears to be a backwards question mark – the lion’s face and mane. The star’s name means “the little king.” I’ve been asked if ancient folks actually thought this looked like a lion. Believe it or not the answer is no! In ancient times, Leo’s spot in the sky was also occupied by the Sun during the summer solstice, the annual date when the Sun is highest at local noon. Skywatchers wanted to give this spot a regal name and what could be better than the “king of beasts?”

For: June 1-7

The Staerkel Planetarium starts summer matinees this week. Bring the kids out to shows on Tuesday afternoons (1pm and 2pm) and Thursday mornings (10am and 11am). Our “Big Bird show” is back along with Zula Patrol and a fairly new show about a coyote’s misconceptions. We are also excited about a new show that opens this Friday about the New Horizons mission to Pluto. The space probe will make its closest approach to the dwarf planet Pluto on the morning of July 14 and our hope is to add images of Pluto and its five moons to the Friday night show as they become available. We will project the evening press conference live on the dome on the evening of the 14th.

For: June 8-14

At Thursday’s CU Astronomical Society meeting at the planetarium (7pm), we welcome Jeff Bryant who will speak about his graduate school research on cataclysmic variable stars. If you have binoculars, check out Venus (the brightest object in the northwest) in a dark sky. Are you watching it get closer to Jupiter? This weekend, Venus passes near the Beehive star cluster. Normally the Beehive can be seen with just the eye in a dark sky, but can you see it next to the brilliance of Venus? Through a small telescope, Venus will appear as a little half Moon. It reaches its greatest separation from the Sun this week and now will begin the trip to pass between the Sun and Earth.

For: June 15-21

This Friday night the planetarium opens “Summer Prairie Skies,” our live tour of the current night sky, at 7pm. The craze in the planetarium biz are fulldome movies, but we still pride ourselves on our live programming. We love interacting with audiences. Learn a few constellations and then put your new-found knowledge to use as Saturday is the next open house at the CU Astronomical Society observatory (weather permitting). Of course this one won’t start until nearly 9pm because Sunday is the summer solstice and the longest day of the year! It won’t get dark until late. Saturday night a lovely crescent Moon makes a triangle with Jupiter and Venus low in the west.

For: June 22-28

Wednesday’s first quarter Moon will be situated to the right of the star Spica. By Sunday the nearly full Moon is just left of Saturn in the southeast. If you’d like a challenge, later Sunday evening, the dark edge of the Moon will cover the star Theta Librae. Start looking just before 9:30 and see if you can watch the star blink out behind the Moon. Events like this are called “occultations” and were our first evidence that the Moon didn’t possess an atmosphere. Can you see the star in the glare of the Moon? For the early risers, look for Mercury in the east-northeast an hour before sunrise. This is one of the better morning views of Mercury for the year.

For: June 29-July 5

The event skywatchers have been anticipating for the last few months occurs tomorrow night in the western sky. For the last few months, we have watched the planets Venus and Jupiter (the brightest objects in the sky besides the Sun and Moon) draw closer together among the stars of Leo, the Lion. Tomorrow night they’ll be less than a degree apart! It should be quite a sight! Can you split them without optical aid? Venus will be 55 times brighter than Jupiter, due mostly to the fact it is over seven times closer to us. Keep watching the pair as they’ll now separate with Jupiter appearing to move to the right of Venus.

See Dave Leake's "Prairie Skies" column in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette each Monday morning.