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Comet Pan-STARRS

This is an image of Comet Pan-STARRS captured from the Lake Murray Dam on March 13th, 2013. Pan-STARRS is one of two comets that will be visible to the naked eye this year. Named after the telescope which discovered it in 2011, Pan-STARRS is making its first trip around the sun and based on orbital calculations, it won’t return for another 106,000 years.

Comets are large chucks of ice and dust which originate in the Oort cloud of the outer solar system. When comets approach the sun, solar radiation and wind vaporize the ices which form an atmosphere, or coma, around the comet and produce its tail, which always points away from the sun. A secondary dust tail may also form and point in a different direction and curve along the comet’s orbit. (Image credit: Alex Mowery)

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Sky Report

In the Sky This Month...

Lunar Phases for May 2013 (all times EDT)

Lunar Phases...

Last Quar - March 13

New Moon - March 20

First Quar - March 27

Full Moon - April 4

Last Quar - April 11

You can download a sky chart for each month from Skymaps.com.

Solar System...

When can I see the planets?

Planet Rise Transit Set Where do I look? Public Observing
Mercury 6:56am 12:54pm 6:52pm Very low in SE before sunrise Mar '15
Venus 8:54am 3:46pm 10:38pm NW after sunset Mar '15 to Jul '15
Mars 8:09am 2:42pm 9:15pm Very low in NW after sunset Mar '15 to Apr '15
Jupiter 3:01pm 9:53pm 4:50am SE after sunset Mar '15 to Jul '15
Saturn 11:54pm 5:07am 10:15am Visible in the early morning Mar '15 to Sep '15

Mercury is very low in the southeastern sky in the morning before sunrise.

Venus is in the northwestern sky in the evening after sunset. At mag. -3.7 it should be bright enough to spot just minutes after sunset. Venus is the brightest object in the sky, other than the sun and moon, of course.

Mars is currently only visible for a short time after sunset.

Jupiter can be seen shining brightly at magnitude -1.7 in the southeast after sunset. Binoculars or a small telescope will show the disk of Jupiter as well as its four Galilean moons. A stronger telescope will reveal cloud bands as well as the Great Red Spot.

Saturn At magnitude 0.8, Saturn will appear as a moderately bright star-like object. The rings of Saturn are visible even through a small telescope or binoculars, but with a larger telescope, moons, faint cloud bands and even Cassini's Division, a large gap in Saturn's rings, can be observed.

Stars, Constellations & Deep Sky Objects...

The Big Dipper of Ursa Major is in the northeastern sky about 2 hours after sunset. The two end stars of the "cup" are known as the pointer stars as a line extened from these two stars point to Polaris, the North Star. A few nice galaxies can be found in Ursa Major: M81 and M82 can be seen in the same field of view with a small telescope west of the cup. With a more moderate telescope, M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, and M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy, can be seen near the end of the handle.

Continue the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper to find the bright red giant Arcturus of Boötes in the east. Even though Arcturus has a mass similar to that of our Sun, its radius is more than 25 times larger!

Leo can be seen in the east after sunset. The "sickle" which makes up the head of the lion looks like a backwards question mark and is dotted by the bright star Regulus. Leo is home to several galaxies visible under dark skies, including the Leo Triplet, three spiral galaxies that can be observed in the same field of view with smaller telescopes.

Virgo follows behind Leo and is home to a great number of galaxies as well, including the Virgo Cluster which contains nearly a dozen galaxies grouped together.

This page is updated weekly.



Designed by Alex Mowery and maintained by Bryan DeMarcy.

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