Friday, May 4, 2012

May the Fourth Be With You!

In honor of Star Wars Day (May the 4th) I bring you news of astronomical amazingness!  On tap in May, 2012: four cosmic calendar confabulations:

First of all, the annual Star Wars Day

Then, the largest Full moon of the year, Super Moon:

"Supermoon" is the nickname for a full moon that coincides with the moon's arrival at perigee — the point in its orbit that brings it closest to Earth for the month. Perigees occur because the moon's orbit around Earth is ... an ellipse.  ... When the moon is in its full phase and at perigee, it can appear much brighter and slightly larger than the average full moon. Scientists call this event a "perigee moon." 

Next, the Meteor Shower From Halley's Comet :

At the same time as the supermoon, the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower is expected to hit its peak, though the bright moonlight is likely to wash out much of the "shooting star" display.  ... The Eta Aquarids occur between late April and early May when the Earth passes through a stream of dusty debris left behind by the famed Halley's comet during its 76-year trek through our solar system. The meteor shower ... will be at its best during the overnight hours between Saturday and Sunday. Since this coincides with the bright full moon, only the brightest fireballs will be visible. NASA scientists predict between 40 and 60 meteors will be seen per hour.

Finally, the first Solar Eclipse of 2012:

"A unique annular solar eclipse occurs on May 20 for lucky observers in a path from Eureka, California, to Lubbock, Texas," astronomer Nancy Neal Jones said in a NASA video. "The rest of the United States will see a partial solar eclipse." ... An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon is in its new phase but is too far from Earth to completely block the sun. Instead, it leaves a ring (or annulus) of the sun.

Capping off a great month for skywatchers and space fans, there are plenty of planets to view at night in May. Venus and Mercury will shine together on May 31, with Mars and Saturn visible at night all month long.

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