The biggest and brightest full moon of the year arrives Saturday night as our celestial neighbor passes closer to Earth than usual.
As soon as the sun sets on May 5, check out the full moon rising in the east. It’s traditionally known as the flower or milk moon by Native American cultures. This month, however, it has also taken on the popular name of “supermoon” because it may appear more impressive than usual.
The moon will be at its closest approach to Earth in its orbit for the month – known as perigee by astronomers – and, in fact, closest it will get to our planet at 356,955 kilometres, until 2014!
This closeness will also make the moon appear a bit bigger in the sky than usual, hence the name “supermoon.” While the visual effect may not be all that “super” to the unaided eye, it will offer some great photo opportunities for West Islanders with telephoto lenses, as it rises above the St. Lawrence River at sunset.
Let’s just hope for clear skies.
In terms of planet watching, two neighboring planets – Mars and Saturn – dominate high in the southern sky long after dusk all month long.
Look just to the lower right of orange hued Mars and find the 78-light-yeardistant brilliant white star named Regulus, the brightest member of the constellation Leo.
Saturn is to the far lower left of Mars in the southern sky after sunset. The ringed planet appears as a brilliant yellow colored star. Amazing to think that we see this 1.5-billion-kilometre-distant gas giant, like we do all the other planets on display, due to sunlight reflecting of its surface.
Just like the Red Planet, Saturn is also paired with a bright star; its companion, shining just below is 263-light-year-distant Spica, in the constellation Virgo.
As an added cosmic treat, watch for the first quarter moon to first pair up with Mars on May 28. Then with Saturn on May 31.
Meantime, Venus is still the brightest in the western evening skies.
As the month progresses, observers will notice that it is making a steady plunge toward the glow of the sunset each progressive night. But by training a steadily held pair of binoculars or a small telescope at the planet, its crescent shape is easily revealed under high magnification.
By the end of the month, the goddess of love will be lost in the sun’s afterglow as it heads for a transit across the sun’s disk on June 5.
Considered one of the rarest of astronomical events, Venus will appear to move across the face of the sun from 6 p.m. till sundown, a sight that won’t be seen again until the year 2117. Don’t miss this wonderful evening!