May 18, 2022: The bright moon is near the Teapot of Sagittarius before sunrise. The four morning planets are in the eastern sky. Hydra slithers across the May evening sky.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:28 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:07 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The bright waning gibbous moon – 93% illuminated – is over 16° up in the south-southwest before sunrise. It is to the upper right of Sagittarius. Part of this constellation resembles a teapot. In that context, the moon is being steamed this morning by the hot water leaving through the pot’s spout. To see the constellation, it may be necessary to block the moon with your hand as you would to shield your eyes from the sun.
If there’s a clear horizon in this direction, the Scorpion’s stinger is over 10° below the moon and over 6° above the horizon. Two stars are close together. The one to the upper left is named Shaula, meaning “the cocked part of the scorpion’s tail.” The second star is Lesath, meaning “the scorpion’s sting.”
While the two stars appear close together in the sky, they are far apart in space. Lesath is over 500 light years away and Shaula is two hundred light years beyond Lesath.
The stars, sometimes called “Cat’s Eyes,” are hot blue stars, each with an actual brightness at least 1,000 times brighter than our sun.
The morning planets stretch across the eastern sky. Venus, the brightest planet, is low in the east. Jupiter is to its upper right. The gap is 16.7° and it continues to widen.
The Red Planet is approaching Jupiter for a conjunction in less than two weeks. Mars is dimmer than Jupiter and 5.9° to the upper right of the Jovian Giant. Both fit into a binocular’s field of view.
The three planets continue to separate from Saturn, over 25° up in the southeast and 30.1° to the upper right of Mars.
The four planets span over 53° in the morning sky.
Mercury is heading toward a morning appearance with the other bright planets next month. The planet passes between Earth and the sun on May 21.
With the bright moon rising later, step outside as the sky darkens. The bright stars of spring seem sparse compared to the wonders of the winter sky, now departing after sunset.
Spica, Regulus, and Arcturus shine brightly from the southern sky. East of the winter stars, we are looking into the depths of the universe. During winter we are looking into a mass of stars in our Milky Way galaxy. Now other galaxies are visible through telescopes.
Beyond Virgo, Spica’s constellation, Bootes, the kite-shape including Arcturus, the westward-facing Leo, and the Big Dipper, high in the northern sky, not many other constellations are easily found.
One of the dimmer, but very large, constellations is Hydra. On moonless evening during the middle of spring, it crawls across the southern sky. Its head begins in the south-southwest, between Procyon and Regulus. The body curves back and forth eastward.
Alphard – meaning “the solitary star of the serpent” – is about 25° up in the southwest, midway from the horizon to Regulus. This single star is slightly brighter than the stars of the Big Dipper. Without any other bright stars in the region, the name is appropriate for its separation from other bright stellar jewels.
The star is about 200 light years away. Alphard shines with the intensity of 10 suns
The body of the snake continues to Crater the Cup and Corvus, both riding on its back. The constellation’s tail ends 20° up in the south-southeast.
Corvus was the subject of a myth. Olympian Apollo asked Corvus, a raven, to take a cup to fetch some water from a nearby well. Corvus saw fig trees and decided to feast on the tasty fruit rather than complete its task. Realizing the error, the bird return with the cup of water and a snake, complaining its return was delayed by the serpent that attacked the bird. Apollo did not believe the raven, placing the snake, cup of water, and raven into the sky.
Some celestial artwork shows the cup in the snake’s coils to keep it from the raven. The myth concludes that this is why ravens do not take water to their fledglings.
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