Volume XVII, Issue 18 # April 30 - May 6, 2009

Sky Watch by J. Alex Knoll

Around the Corner

We’re half way to summer

Venus crests the eastern horizon a little before 5am as the sky begins to lighten with the coming dawn. Venus is brighter than all but the sun and moon and this week shines as bright as she’ll get until December next year. Much dimmer Mars rises a half-hour later, trailing Venus by only five degrees. Far ahead of Venus in the southeast shines Jupiter, yet this gaseous giant is only half as bright as the Morning Star.

In the evening sky this week, Mercury hangs low in the west-northwest for an hour after sunset, around 8pm. As the sky darkens, the Pleiades star cluster appears just a couple degrees to Mercury’s right, and they are closest together the first few days of May. Even so, they all disappear beneath the horizon in less than 90 minutes. You’ll be more likely to spot all six of the seven stars visible with a pair of binoculars.

Brightest of the Pleiades stars, and most beautiful of the seven sisters, is Maia, for whom our fifth month of the year is named.

May 1 marks first-quarter moon, but it is also May Day, a holiday stretching back to the ancient Celtic festival Beltane. As one of the four cross-quarter days, Beltane marked the start of summer and was full of fertility rituals, some of which survive today in May Day baskets and Maypoles. Due to changes in our calendar system over the centuries, May Day is no longer the true cross-quarter day, when the sun is mid-point between vernal equinox and summer solstice; the actual cross-quarter day is May 5.

This year’s Eta-Aquarid meteor shower peaks in the dark hours between sunset Wednesday, May 5 and dawn May 6, with up to 10 meteors an hour appearing to emanate from Aquarius.

Illustration: © Copyright 1925 M.C. Escher/Cordon Art-Baarn-Holland; Graphics: © Copyright 2009 Pacific Publishers. Reprinted by permission from the Tidelog graphic almanac. Bound copies of the annual Tidelog for Chesapeake Bay are $14.95 ppd. from Pacific Publishers, Box 480, Bolinas, CA 94924. Phone 415-868-2909. Weather affects tides. This information is believed to be reliable but no guarantee of accuracy is made by Bay Weekly or Pacific Publishers. The actual layout of Tidelog differs from that used in Bay Weekly. Tidelog graphics are repositioned to reflect Bay Weekly’s distribution cycle.Tides are based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and are positioned to coincide with high and low tides of Tidelog.