David L. Richards
Look for a good high spot with a view of the west-northwest horizon on May 20. If the weather cooperates, you may catch the first few minutes of an annular eclipse of the sun beginning at 8:23 p.m. The sun will be only 2 degrees — that’s 4 diameters of the sun — above the horizon. By sunset, at 8:34, a slice of the new moon will intrude upon the sun.
To see the entire event, you’ll have to travel as far west as Albuquerque, N.M., where a perfect annulus, or ring around the moon, will be seen with the sun 5 degrees above the horizon. A total solar eclipse will not occur, as the moon is at apogee, 252,555 miles from Earth, and the moon’s apparent diameter will not be large enough to completely cover the sun. That’s the farthest it will be all year.
On May 6, the moon will be at the closest point, or perigee, for the year at 221,802 miles. Astronomers have been calling this a “super moon,” and it will appear 14 percent larger in the sky than at apogee.
Jupiter has now left the night sky, and Mars continues his march through Leo, moving away from Regulus, Leo’s heart.
Venus remains amazingly brilliant at magnitude -4.7, and we’ve been fielding many calls at the planetarium asking, “What’s that really bright light in the west?” You may remember a policeman (not from Akron or Canton) who thought it was a UFO a few decades ago, and chased it to the Ohio border until he realized his folly.
By month’s end Venus will be close to the horizon at dusk, and on May 31 will appear right above Mercury at 9 p.m. in the west-northwest. During the first week of May, look for Mercury in the morning in the east-northeast about 6 a.m. Saturn remains near Spica in Virgo, the Virgin, and is visible most of the night.
The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is expected to peak on the mornings of May 5 and 6. Unfortunately, the light from the largest full moon of the year will obscure all but the brightest meteors.
Remember, at 6:04 p.m. June 5 is the Transit of Venus across the sun. The Hoover Price Planetarium will host a Transit Watch beginning at 5:30 p.m. on the McKinley Monument Plaza, and local astronomy clubs will have specially equipped telescopes to observe the event. Make no attempt to observe the transit, or the sun, without approved filters, as you risk blindness.
After the transit, we will continue to view the night sky, weather permitting. Plan to join us for a twice-in-a-lifetime event.
Q: Did astronomers really find something that travels faster than light? What is it? — T.J., Akron
A: Scientists in Italy thought they found a subatomic particle, known as a neutrino, traveling slightly faster than the speed of light. The finding caused quite an uproar in scientific circles, as the speed of light was considered the cosmic speed limit, and would possibly require theoreticians to go back to the drawing board.
After much testing and investigation, a loose wire was found that had thrown off their measurements. The cosmic speed limit remains the speed of light. The scientist responsible for the error resigned. Life goes on, and the scientific method once again proves itself.
The Hoover-Price Planetarium will begin a new program, Transits, on May 5. Shows are at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through July 1, and 1 p.m. weekday shows begin on June 4. We will discuss the June 5 Transit of Venus and the scientific value of studying transits in general.
The planetarium is included with admission to the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum. Call 330-455-7043 for information.
David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, OH 44708, www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.