What's coming up in the northern hemisphere's night sky in the month of 23 to 29 May 2022.
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Chris Bramley Hello and welcome to Star Diary, the podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. You can subscribe to the print edition of the magazine by visiting www.skyatnightmagazine.com or to a digital edition by visiting iTunes or Google Play.

Ezzy Pearson Greetings, listeners, and welcome to Star Diary, a weekly guide to the best things to see in the northern hemisphere's night sky. And this episode will be covering the coming week from 23rd to 29th May. I'm Ezzy Pearson, the magazine's news editor, and I'm joined on the podcast today by reviews editor Paul Money. Hello, Paul.

Paul Money Hello Ezzy, looking forward to some more exciting events.

Ezzy Pearson Absolutely. Always do.

Paul Money Well, I hope you like getting up again because we're back to the morning sky and, well, this is the point. There are so many planets in the morning sky at the moment that knows the major events actually are taking place there. And a lot of the events always involve the Moon - a close to a bright star, close to a bright planet. And in this particular case, on 25th, we find the Moon forming a wonderful triangle with Mars and Jupiter. We want to be looking at 4a.m. roughly in the east, slightly southeast region. And so twilight is bright, but the moon's bright Jupiter's bright, Mars is bright. So, you know, you should very easily spot them. It's lovely. It's one of those photographic opportunities sort of thing, you know, grab these this wonderful triangle where these two bright planets and the crescent moon there as well. And Venus is well off to their left, in actual fact. So the next morning on the 26th, the Moon lies between Jupiter and Venus, forming a shallow triangle as well. So I just love looking out for these, but you do need an uncluttered horizon that that's the absolute real main thing about this is you need a clear, uncluttered horizon to actually see these. But it's wonderful to watch the Moon. And again, you see the motion of the Moon. We mentioned last week about the Moon, and it's unloved. This is a way of watching the Moon and its clockwork motion literally moving every single morning, you see it getting across the sky passing different planets. So there we are. So that was the 26th when the Moon lay between Jupiter and Venus is getting quite low. You've got to bear in mind that Venus is getting very low, so he's getting closer into the solar glare. You're going to have to be careful, you don't overrun and so you get then sunrise. But it's worth for the next morning because we have another really close conjunction between the Moon and Venus. I mean, the morning star, it's classed as either the morning or the evening. At the moment, we've got it in the morning sky, so we got brilliant Venus there and the very slim crescent moon lies directly below Venus. Absolutely directly below it. But you want to be looking around about 4a.m. roughly just past east, just to the left of East, and you should see it. But then again, if you can't find Venus, it must be cloudy.

Ezzy Pearson It's a bright light. It's not quite as bright as the Moon, it's obvious when it's in the sky.

Paul Money And it's always interesting the number of people who often either writing to the magazine saying, I saw this bright star above the Moon the other morning. Please tell me what it is, you know? And you know it really, it's usually going to be Jupiter will Venus, to be fair, and they're usually the two brightest planets to go with the Moon, but well looking well worth looking at it. But there's something else to look out for, and that is when you get the moon as a crescent. Whether it's in the evenings going on the morning sky, you can often see the other half, the night side feebly glowing and this is Earthshine is basically second on sunlight bounced off the Earth's atmosphere and reflected onto the moon. It's like a photographer's fill in flash. Is sort of light, illuminating the night sky landscape of the moon as he got the bright crescent, which is the daylight side. And then you've got this feeble light. You can see very faintly the features of the moon because of this Earthshine. I just think it's ethereal. It just looks gorgeous when you get that ice. It's one of those times when he's worth getting up just to see that, but you got the bonus of having Venus actually above it as well. Now we're always talking about conjunctions. You know, this is where two objects share, technically, you should be sharing the same right ascension coordinates. But we do tend to use the word conjunction quite liberally and very vaguely, I have to say, as long as two objects are close to each other in the sky. But we do have a genuine conjunction on May 29th, and this is where Jupiter and Mars finally meet. And again, that'd be really, really close. So we really like these. Well, worth looking out for them, and they'll only be about half a degree apart now, that's the width of the Moon. The average width of the moon is half a degree. So you could fit a half moon between them. So if you can see the moon and you can see the shape of it, then you can easily see these two planets separated. So look towards the east to the east southeast sky around 4am for this gorgeous view, binoculars will be good. And if you've got a telescope with a wide field of view, home in on that as well because... but you can see it with the naked eye, so it's always. It's always nice, if you've got a target, something happening whereby it works for all three: naked eye, binocular and telescope as well. So if you got all three, obviously, hopefully you got the first one. The eyes, it does help really don't, you know? I mean, you know, I don't think we could do radio astronomy on this sort of thing with a conjunction. It wouldn't work. Would it? Be a bit strange. But you know, you could.

Ezzy Pearson I think it's also like when you say you could get all three naked eye binocular and telescope, that's also another really good one for beginners or people who are sort of stepping up their game with astronomy as you're learning because you can immediately see it with your naked eye. It's very obvious. As you said, Jupiter's usually one of the brightest things in the night sky, which makes it very easy to find with binoculars. You just whip them up. And there it is. And also quite easy to find with the telescope, so you can really try and improve your game on objects at times like this. So definitely try and get there and have a look.

Paul Money And of course, with binoculars and telescope, when you got Jupiter involved, you could always try looking for the Galilean moons as well. I know it'll be a bright twilight, but you might pick them out just before the sky gets too bright. So you got a whole host, you've got Mars, you've got Jupiter, and you may have the Galilean moons as well as an extra. So, you know, several Solar System objects in one planets and moons. But I love these conjunctions, and after that, Jupiter is moving higher up in sky. Mars is slowly moving. It is actually gradually dropping into the twilight, but he's taking a slower job than Venus. Venus been an inner planet, a dropping back rather rapidly into the solar glare. So it's one of those things we will be losing it very shortly. Now may time is on, especially towards the end of May, is when we start to look out for what we call noctilucent clouds. These are night shining clouds. And so, you know, there's not just planets up there in the Moon to observe as well as the stars of the summer sky. We now have the chance to see these night shining clouds. They look silvery blue and generally in the evening you want to be looking roughly northwest for these and one of those that they are very ephemeral, you know, so that they can they can appear and you may have a few minutes watching them and then they dissipate and you think where they're gone. Then another time I watch one set that occurred and they went through the whole night. But what they do is because it's the reflection of sort of like sunlight of ice crystals really high up in the atmosphere. That's why they're still visible. Normal clouds wouldn't be visible at that time because they've been darkness, so normal clouds go to about five miles high. We're talking about ice crystals that are probably up to about 50 miles high in the atmosphere, so they're still in direct sunlight, but they have this silvery blue look. And as the sun moves below the horizon, so the noctilucent clouds gradually seem to drift across from north west through north. And if you're looking, you see them all night, then you'll see them up to about half an hour, well, about an hour before sunrise. Because as the sky gets lighter course, it will wash out the noctilucent clouds. So this is the season, and this is the month they actually start to be first noticed. So keep a lookout towards that northeast and northwest horizon just in case you start seeing the noctilucent clouds. Well, we've said this before about the aurora. They are completely unpredictable. We can't guarantee you'll see them. They will... They'll be there or they won't. It's as simple as that. That's why you need a good, clear horizon again. Keep a look out and you might be lucky to pick these, but they are. They're so ephemeral. And if you watch them, sometimes you can actually see motion in the cloud over the course of several minutes, especially if using binoculars or some intricate structure. To see little curvy waves suggesting there is atmospheric circulation taking place there disturbing the ice crystals, creating these wonderful patterns. So definitely look, look out for the noctilucent clouds as we head towards the last week of May.

Ezzy Pearson I do have to say noctilucent clouds. It's one of those things that I'm not sure if I've ever seen them. There was one time when it was like, that might be a noctilucent cloud that might just be a cloud. But I've always wanted to, you know, you see these amazing pictures, and I know astronomy pictures never look like the real thing, but it's one of those things I've always really wanted to go and see. So I will definitely be keeping an eye out throughout, well, the end of May onwards.

Paul Money And I did mention that, you know, they look the normal clouds look dark, but you've got to bear in mind when the Moon up, the Moon can illuminate ordinary clouds. So when the moon's of this has confused people and put up pictures which are actually normal clouds very low down, but they're illuminated by moonlight. So the key is they look a silvery blue sort of light, and there's something about them that of catch you on. You think this is different to normal clouds? So what? We're looking out for him, but don't be caught out of the moon's well and is illuminating very light. I've seen it done.

Ezzy Pearson And if we have any astrophotographers out there who managed to capture one, always, we always love seeing those sorts of things. And perhaps even if you're you're not a photographer, but you're more of an artist, it might be something that's a bit more magical and ephemeral to trial sketching techniques on. And we'd also love to see those as well. If you ever have a really good sketch, please do feel free to send them in to us at Sky at Night magazine.


Chris Bramley Thank you for listening to this episode of the story podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. For more of our podcast, visit our website at Sky and Light Magazine Dot Com or head to Coast iTunes or Spotify.


Elizabeth Pearson
Ezzy PearsonScience journalist

Ezzy Pearson is the Features Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Her first book about the history of robotic planetary landers is out now from The History Press.