David L. Richards

Saturn is May’s morning “star.” She sets at 6:35 a.m. on the first of the month.

Mercury is not visible until later in May. You may spot it about 9 p.m. May 18 after sunset. At that time, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter form a conspicuous trio along a 15-degree arc. Again on May 27, these three gather together within a 2-degree circle on the northwest horizon right after sunset. In a low-power telescope they should form quite a sight.

Mars is lost in the sun’s glare this month. On the morning of May 10, the less-than-day-old moon (it’s such a tiny sliver you’ll need a telescope to spot it) and Venus are separated by less than one degree, near the Pleiades.

Jupiter and the waxing crescent moon lie within the field of a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars, about 5 degrees apart, around 9:30 p.m. May 12. Saturn, too, will appear that close to the nearly full moon on May 22.

The Eta Aquarid shower peaks this month in the early morning hours of May 5. The Earth will be passing through the debris trail of Halley’s Comet, and with no moon to interfere with dark skies, you can expect up to 20 to 40 meteors an hour.

On May 25, a very shallow penumbral eclipse of the moon occurs. According to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Observer’s Handbook, it is “only of academic interest since it will be all but impossible to detect.”

You will be quite able to detect the year’s first solar eclipse on May 10 — but you must be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the Gilbert Islands. These islands played a significant role in the Pacific theater in World War II. If your father or grandfather served there, they’re certain to have some stories, if they wish to dredge up some awful memories.

Q&A

Q: I bought a star off the Web, and they only have some numbers showing where the star is located. Can you show us the star?

— C.B., Akron

A: Normally, no, but you piqued my interest about the whole “buy a star” deal.

The numbers indicated the right ascension and declination of the star on the celestial sphere — sort of its longitude and latitude. Going to that spot on a star chart, I found nothing … until I realized the company you “bought” the star from was most probably using an old 1950 Epoch chart.

Scientists now employ the updated 2000.0 Epoch charts, and since the stars appear to move slightly over many years, the coordinates were off. So the nearest star to that spot had no name, but a lengthy catalog number. And it was magnitude 14.35, so you would need a telescope with a 13-inch objective mirror or lens to see it. We haven’t got one that large. Caveat emptor.

Program

A new program, Citizen Science, begins Saturday at the Hoover-Price Planetarium. Astronomy is one of the few sciences where ordinary citizens — sometimes using extraordinary equipment — may make outstanding contributions to the scientific community. We will look at how you can take part in this fascinating venture, sometimes using only your eyes!

Running through July 7, the program will be shown at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. From June 3 through Labor Day, there will also be weekday showings at 1 p.m.

David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, 44708, www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043 or through email at hooverpriceplanetarium@hotmail.com.