This is the Saint Louis Science Center’s NIGHT SKY UPDATE for the week of Friday, May 08, 2020.

Information updated weekly or as needed.

Times given as local St. Louis time (CDT).  For definitions of terminology used in the night sky update, click the highlighted text.

For now, star parties at the Saint Louis Science Center have been canceled due to recommendations from the CDC regarding COVID-19. All public telescope events are canceled until further notice. As conditions change, we will reevaluate and update this article once public observing events resume.

The Sun and Moon


The Moon as seen from the International Space Station, on July 31, 2011.
Credit: NASA

Sunrise is at 5:44 a.m. on Friday, May 8 and sunset is at 8:00 p.m. providing us with a little over 14 hours of daylight. Even after sunset, the light from the Sun will dimly illuminate our sky for almost 2 hours. This period is called twilight, which ends around 9:45 p.m. this week. For those with a sundial, solar transit or local noon occurs around 12:58 p.m. this week.

DaySunriseSunset
2020-05-08 5:55 a.m.8:00 p.m.
2020-05-095:54 a.m.8:01 p.m.
2020-05-10 5:53 a.m.8:02 p.m.
2020-05-115:52 a.m.8:03 p.m.
2020-05-12 5:51 a.m.8:04 p.m.
2020-05-13 5:51 a.m.8:05 p.m.
2020-05-14 5:50 a.m.8:06 p.m.
2020-05-15 5:49 a.m.8:07 p.m.
2020-05-16 5:48 a.m.8:08 p.m.

Moonrise for Friday, May 8 occurs at 9:45 p.m. and moonset will occur at 06:56 a.m. on the following day. On Friday, May 8 the Moon will be exhibiting a waning gibbous phase with roughly 97% of the lunar disk illuminated. Last quarter moon occurs on May 14.

International Space Station (ISS) Observing

Credit: NASA

Visible passes of ISS from St. Louis for the week of May 8 occur during morning and evening hours. The best of these occur on the morning of May 15 and the evenings of May 15 and 16. Use the table below for information about these and other visible passes of ISS.

Catch ISS from St. Louis starting Friday, May 8

Date Starts  Max. altitude  Ends  
TimeAlt.Az.TimeAlt.Az.TimeAlt.Az.
11 May-0.7 04:40:3210NNW 04:42:3815NNE 04:44:4510ENE
13 May-1.5 04:41:1110NNW 04:44:0928NNE 04:47:0810E
14 May-0.9 03:53:3510NNW 03:56:1120NNE 03:58:4610ENE
14 May-2.2 22:11:4010SW 22:13:1927SW 22:13:1927SW
15 May-0.5 03:06:0310NNW 03:08:0815NNE 03:10:1310ENE
15 May-3.6 04:42:0210NW 04:45:2475NE 04:48:4510SE
15 May-3.7 21:23:5710SW 21:27:1352SE 21:30:3110ENE
15 May-1.1 23:01:3210WNW 23:04:1121NNW 23:06:5210NNE
16 May-2.5 03:54:1710NW 03:57:3243NE 04:00:4510ESE
16 May-2.9 20:36:3210SSW 20:39:2828SE 20:42:2510ENE
16 May-1.8 22:13:1010W 22:16:1231NNW 22:19:1510NE

Magnitude (Mag): The Measure of brightness for a celestial object.  The lower the value is, the brighter the object will be.

Altitude (Alt):  The angle of a celestial object measured upwards from the observer’s horizon.

Azimuth (Az):  The direction of a celestial object, measured clockwise from an observer’s location with north being 0°, east being 90°, south being 180° and west being 270°.

For information about ISS flyovers and other visible satellites, visit www.heavens-above.com

Detailed information regarding all unmanned exploration of our universe, missions past, present, and planned, can be found at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Visible Planets


Looking West, 30 Minutes After Sunset, May 8, 2020
Credit: Stellarium, EG


Looking Southeast, 4:00 am, May 9, 2020
Credit: Stellarium, EG

This week, four naked eye planets are visible. Venus will be visible in the west just after sunset. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are visible in the southeast about 2 hours before sunrise.

Venus

The brightest planet in the sky is visible in the west as the sun sets. Venus reached maximum elongation for its current apparition; because of this Venus will start to move towards the Sun each night as it approaches inferior conjunction on June 3, 2020. Venus will set around 10:51 p.m.

Mars

The red planet rises around 2:39 a.m. and will be high enough to see in the southeast by 4:00 a.m. Opposition for Mars occurs on October 13, 2020. As we head towards this date Mars will appear brighter and its surface will eventually be visible through a telescope.

Jupiter

The king of the planets is rising around 1:02 a.m. and should be visible in the southeast around 2:00 a.m. Each week you will find Jupiter rising about 20 minutes earlier than it did in the previous week.

Saturn

Saturn is rising around 1:18 a.m. Like Jupiter you will need a clear sky to the southeast to catch the ring planet around 2:00 a.m. Later this year Jupiter and Saturn will reach conjunction on December 21, 2020. You can track these planets as they appear to chase one another throughout the rest of this year.

2020 Great Conjunction

This year, the planets Jupiter and Saturn will reach conjunction.  A conjunction is when two or more celestial bodies share the same right ascension.  For Jupiter and Saturn, this astronomical event only occurs every 20 years. The conjunction will occur on December 21, 2020.  You will find the two planets close together in the southwestern sky just after sunset on this date.

Comet Watch

Comet C/2020 F8 SWAN

Credit: Diego Toscan

Comet SWAN (C/2020 F8)

With what seems to be another comet let down, there is hope for comet hunters. A comet was discovered by Michael Mattiazzo searching imagery from the Solar Wind Anisotropies (SWAN) camera on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). SWAN’s primary science objective has to do with monitoring the solar wind in Lyman-α light, a type of UV radiation. It also monitors sunspots and can observe comets in this same emitted wavelength of light. Learn more at https://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/about/instruments.html

Right now, Comet SWAN is in the constellation Cetus and is rising around the same time as the Sun. Its closest approach to Earth occurs on May 12. As we go through May, Comet SWAN will move into the constellation Pisces starting our best chance to catch it before sunrise. As we head into the last half of May, Comet SWAN will head north passing through the constellations Triangulum, Perseus and Auriga. Unfortunately, we will be fighting morning twilight.  The best window of observation appears to be May 12 through May 19. On these dates Comet SWAN will be roughly 7° to 10° above the horizon around 4:30 a.m. To find this comet you will need a clear view of the eastern and northeastern horizon.

Currently Comet SWAN is around 5.4 magnitude, but it is predicted to reach 3rd magnitude in the last half of May. The behavior of comets is unpredictable and as such predictions of future magnitudes is never a guarantee. This said, Comet SWAN will be a comet to keep track of. There are several ways to track this comet. The two I regularly use are Stellarium and www.heavens-above.com.  Both will require minor set up, but they are easy to use. There is also an article available on www.skyandtelescope.org that will show the path of Comet C/2020 F8 SWAN through June 6.

UPDATE for C/2019 Y4 ATLAS May 8, 2020

Comet C/2019 Y4 ATLAS continues to hang around 9.5 magnitude. Unfortunately, the comet continues to break apart signaling it is disintegrating. Observations done with the Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed this. It looks like C/2019 Y4 ATLAS will not perform as we hoped it would. Certainly, this is a disappointment to backyard observers, but for astronomers who study comets, this is an exciting time. It is not often they are given a chance to see this process so clearly and as such it is a valuable opportunity for them. You can learn more about this at https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/hubble-watches-comet-atlas-disintegrate-into-more-than-two-dozen-pieces

Visit the James S. McDonnell Planetarium for more information on what’s up!

Night Sky Update: May 8-May 16, 2020