Astronomy News for the Month of May 2020

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For amateur radio operators and scanner enthusiasts, when in the Denver metro area, please join the Colorado Astronomy Net on the Rocky Mountain Radio League's WØWYX 146.94 MHz and 449.825 MHz repeaters.
Due to hardware issues, links with the Allstar node, Echolink and the Cripple Creek repeater are down until further notice.
The net meets on Tuesday nights at 7 P.M. Mountain Time (US).

Obtain your Amateur Radio (Ham) License or your General Radio Operator's License (GROL)! Visit the South Metro VE Team website for more information. The South Metro VE Team provides test sessions on the 1st Saturday of each month at our new Eagle Street Facility, The City of Centennial, 7272 South Eagle Street, Centennial, Colorado 80112-4244 at 9am.

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 Excerpts from JPL mission updates are provided as a public service as part
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For special JPL programs and presentations in your area visit the JPL Solar System Ambassador website.
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In this Newsletter...

Background screen credits: NGC5775
Imaged March 21/22, 2001
using the 16" Kitt Peak Visitors Center telescope
as part of the Kitt Peak Advanced Observing Program.

"A brilliant Venus shines to the right of an overexposed crescent Moon during twilight at Lake Wendouree in southern Australia. A barely perceptible Mercury hovers below and slightly to the right of Venus."

The Month At-A-Glance
A calendar displaying the daily astronomical events.

02 day moon

The Moon



Moon/Planet Pairs

For reference: The Full Moon subtends an angle of ~0.5°.

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The Planets & Dwarf Planets

Planetary Reports generated by "TheSkyX" software. These reports provide predicted data for the planets for the first of each month for the current year. The rise and set times for the Sun and the Moon for each day of the month as well as meteor shower radiants are also included in the reports. These reports have been optimized for the Denver, Colorado location, however, the times will be approximate for other locations on Earth.

(All times are local unless otherwise noted.)

Planetary Highlights for May

"Whether you prefer evening or morning observing -- or both -- May has you covered. Venus and Mercury appear in the night sky this month, offering fine views during evening twilight. Meanwhile, the morning sky holds the magnificent trio of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. All three planets are improving as they approach their respective oppositions later this year, which results in larger disks when viewed with a telescope." Astronomy Magazine, May 2020, P. 36.


Is in superior conjunction on the 4th. Mercury sets at 7:34 p.m. on the 1st and about 10:14 p.m. by month's end. Look for Mercury low to the west-southwest about 30 minutes after sunset after the second week of the month. Mercury is in conjunction with Venus on the 22nd, but for U.S. observers, the best time to spot the pair near closest approach will be on the evening of the 21st when the pair will be about 1° apart from each other just after sunset. Mercury moves from the constellation of Aries into Gemini this month shining at magnitude 0.0 on the 31st.


Is stationary on the 13th. Venus sets at 11:17 p.m. on the 1st and about 8:35 p.m. by month's end. Look for Venus soon after sunset to the west. Venus is in the constellation of Taurus shining at magnitude -4.6.




Rises at 2:50 a.m. on the 1st and about 1:46 a.m. by month's end. Look to the southeast before sunrise to spot Mars. Mars moves from the constellation of Capricornus into Aquarius this month shining at magnitude 0.2.


Rises at 1:27 a.m. on the 1st and about 11:20 p.m. by month's end. Look for Jupiter to the south before sunrise. Jupiter is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude -2.4.


Rises at 1:47 a.m. on the 1st and around 11:37 p.m. by month's end. Look for Saturn to the south before sunrise. Saturn is in the constellation of Capricornus shining at magnitude 0.5.


Rises at 5:50 a.m. on the 1st and around 3:53 a.m. by month's end. Uranus rises during twilight for most of this month, so it will still be difficult to spot until next month. Uranus is in the constellation of Aries shining at magnitude 5.9.


Rises at 3:59 a.m. on the 1st and about 1:58 a.m. by month's end. Look for Neptune to the southeast before sunrise. Neptune is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 7.9.

Dwarf Planets


Rises at 3:48 a.m. on the 1st and around 2:13 a.m. by month's end. Look for Ceres, to the southeast before sunrise. Ceres is in the constellation of Aquarius shining at magnitude 9.1.


Rises at 1:22 a.m. on the 1st and around 11:16 p.m. by month's end. Pluto is situated near Jupiter and may be visible if skies are dark enough. Pluto is in the constellation of Sagittarius shining at magnitude 14.7.

As always, good luck at spotting Neptune, Ceres and Pluto, a large telescope and dark skies will be needed.

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Astronomical Events

Meteor Showers

  • The Eta Aquarids Meteor Showers - This shower is visible during the period of April 21 to May 12. It reaches maximum on May 5. During the period of greatest activity hourly rates usually reach 20 for observers in the northern hemisphere and 50 for observers in the southern hemisphere.

    Meteor Shower Radiant Report

    For more information about Meteor Showers, visit Gary Kronk's Meteor Showers Online web page.

    Meteor Scatter (or Meteor burst communications) - "is a radio propagation mode that exploits the ionized trails of meteors during atmospheric entry to establish brief communications paths between radio stations up to 2,250 kilometres (1,400 mi) apart." Tune your shortwave or your HF amateur radio to 54.310 MHz SSB and see if you can hear any pings. Try other frequencies as well... 6m FT8 digital - 50.313 Mhz & 50.276 Mhz, JP-65 digital mode and the carrier frequencies of the lower VHF bands for TV channels 2, 3 & 4.

  • Comets

  • "Comet PanSTARRS (C/2017 T2) shares a low-power field with the Cigar Galaxy (M82)! As ideal as modest-telescope comets get, PanSTARRS hits a peak brightness of 8th or 9th magnitude while sailing high in the northern sky. The comet makes its closest approach to the Sun, or reaches perihelion, May 4, at a distance of 149 million miles. On the plus side, PanSTARRS crests near Polaris, making it accessible to northern observers all night." Astronomy Magazine, May 2020, P. 42.

  • For information, orbital elements and ephemerides on observable comets, visit the Observable Comets page from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

    For more information about Comets, visit Gary Kronk's webpage.

  • Eclipses

    Solar Eclipses

  • No solar eclipse activity this month.

    Lunar Eclipses

  • No lunar eclipse activity this month.
  • Observational Opportunities

  • Look for Venus and Mercury in the early evening sky soon after sunset.
  • Look for Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the early morning before sunrise.
  • Look for Comet PanSTARRS in Ursa Major.
  • Look for Venus and Uranus in the early evening sky soon after sunset.
  • Look for Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the early morning before sunrise.
  • Look for Comet PanSTARRS in Camelopardalis.

  • Asteroids

    (From west to east)
    • Harmonia is in the constellation of Virgo.
    • Thalia is in the constellation of Virgo.
    • Iris is in the constellation of Sagittarius.
    • Herculina is in the constellation of Sagittarius.

    • Information about the Minor Planets can be found at the Minor Planet Observer website.

    IOTA Logo

  • Information on various occultations can be found by clicking the IOTA logo.
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    Subscriber Gallery

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    Member Meteor Sightings

    This is a new section where I will post meteor, fireball, etc sightings that have been published on the American Meteor Society's web site. I want to make this an active section of the web pages and newsletter and would like to publish the links to member sightings. If you have any published sightings, please provide me with the links and I will post them here for all to enjoy.

    Event ID Date/Time Location Observer Link
    3587-2015 2015-11-22 17:38 MST CO Kevin S 3587aw
    3829-2015 2015-12-05 18:06 MST Highlands Ranch, CO Burness A 3829a
    3871-2015 2015-11-13 01:55 MST CO Charles N 3871a
    986-2020 2020-02-21 22:20 MST CO Lukas S 986

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    Planetary/Lunar Exploration Missions

    (Excerpts from recent JPL mission updates)

    JPL Latest News
    The Latest from Space

    JPL Latest News

    May 1, 2020
    Newly Reprocessed Images of Europa Show 'Chaos Terrain' in Crisp Detail

    Full Article & Images

    "The surface of Jupiter's moon Europa features a widely varied landscape, including ridges, bands, small rounded domes and disrupted spaces that geologists call "chaos terrain." Three newly reprocessed images, taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s, reveal details in diverse surface features on Europa."

    Read the latest news and discoveries from JPL's dozens of active space missions exploring Earth, the solar system and worlds beyond.

    Past, Present, Future and Proposed JPL Missions.

    For special JPL programs and presentations in your area visit the JPL Solar System Ambassador web site.

    Juno - May 1, 2020
    Jupiter's Great Red Spot: A Rose By Any Other Name

    Full Article & Images

    "Jupiter's already vibrant colors become especially striking in this artistic interpretation of an image from NASA's Juno mission that shows the planet's famous Great Red Spot. Citizen scientist Mary J. Murphy processed an image from the spacecraft's JunoCam instrument, increasing the color saturation to create a piece Murphy calls "The Rose."

    The Great Red Spot is a storm in Jupiter's southern hemisphere with crimson-colored clouds that spin counterclockwise at wind speeds that exceed those in any storm on Earth. The Great Red Spot has slowly changed over the years, and is currently about 1.3 times as wide as our planet. Data returned by the Juno mission helped scientists determine that the storm's roots extend at least 200 miles (320 kilometers) into Jupiter's atmosphere. For comparison, a typical tropical cyclone on Earth only extends about 9 miles (15 kilometers) from the top of the storm to the bottom."

    Images from NASA's JunoCam.

    More information on the Juno mission is available at: Juno and Mission Juno.

    The public can follow the Juno mission on Facebook and Twitter.

    New Horizons - April 24, 2020
    Thoughts on Interstellar Navigation by Parallax

    Full Article & Images

    "Forever and forever we have taken the stars as fixed markers in the sky -- old friends to guide your way on land, at sea, in the air and even in space. We flew to the Moon decades ago and shot the stars all along the way. One needs a sense of direction to embark on the unknown. There was a new world to explore, but one framed by the old stars you learned when you were a kid in Ohio."

    New Horizons gallery

    Find New Horizons in the iTunes App Store.

    For more information on the New Horizons mission - the first mission to the ninth planet - visit the New Horizons home page.

    TESS - January 24, 2020
    How Earth Climate Models Help Scientists Picture Life on Unimaginable Worlds

    Full Article & Images

    "In a generic brick building on the northwestern edge of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center campus in Greenbelt, Maryland, thousands of computers packed in racks the size of vending machines hum in a deafening chorus of data crunching. Day and night, they spit out 7 quadrillion calculations per second. These machines collectively are known as NASA's Discover supercomputer and they are tasked with running sophisticated climate models to predict Earth's future climate.

    But now, they're also sussing out something much farther away: whether any of the more than 4,000 curiously weird planets beyond our solar system discovered in the past two decades could support life."

    For more information on the TESS mission, visit the Latest Tess Stories page.

    Past, Present, Future and Proposed JPL Missions

    Visit JPL's mission pages for current status.

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    Mars Missions

    Be A Martian

    Mars website mobile version is here!

    Mars Daily Weather Report

    Mars on the Go! NASA Be A Martian Mobile App
    If you want the latest news as it happens, try our Be A Martian app.
    Download on Mobile Devices
    Android | iPhone | Windows Phone

    JMARS is an acronym that stands for Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing. It is a geospatial information system (GIS) developed by ASU's Mars Space Flight Facility to provide mission planning and data-analysis tools to NASA's orbiters, instrument team members, students of all ages, and the general public.

    Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

    "The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) began in 1948, a decade before NASA. We are the world's only research institute to have sent instruments to all eight planets and Pluto.

    LASP combines all aspects of space exploration through our expertise in science, engineering, mission operations, and scientific data analysis. As part of CU, LASP also works to educate and train the next generation of space scientists, engineers and mission operators by integrating undergraduate and graduate students into working teams. Our students take their unique experiences with them into government or industry, or remain in academia to continue the cycle of exploration.

    LASP is an affiliate of CU-Boulder AeroSpace Ventures, a collaboration among aerospace-related departments, institutes, centers, government labs, and industry partners."

    LASP/MAVEN - April 22, 2020
    LASP awarded Earth Venture Mission Libera

    Full Article & Images

    "A new spacecraft proposed by scientists at CU Boulder could soon be NASA's nose in space, sniffing out the environments beyond Earth's solar system that might host planets with thick atmospheres.

    Astrophysicist Kevin France is leading the development of that mission, called the Extreme-ultraviolet Stellar Characterization for Atmospheric Physics and Evolution (ESCAPE). He's hoping it will provide the critical reconnaissance work in humanity's search for life far away from home."

    Visit LASP and MAVEN for more information.

    Mars 2020 - Perseverance - May 1, 2020
    NASA's Perseverance Rover Will Look at Mars Through These 'Eyes'

    Full Article & Images

    "When it launches this summer, NASA's Perseverance rover will have the most advanced pair of "eyes" ever sent to the Red Planet's surface: Its Mastcam-Z instrument packs a next-gen zoom capability that will help the mission make 3D imagery more easily. Rover operators, who carefully plan out each driving route and each movement of a rover's robotic arm, view these stereo images through 3D goggles to see the contours of the landscape."

    Learn more about the upcoming Mars 2020 (Perseverance) mission.

    Mars Science Laboratory - Curiosity - May 1, 2020
    Sols 2751-2753: 'Glas-going' to Drill!

    Full Article & Images

    "To me, it seems like Curiosity was sitting on top of the Greenheugh pediment getting ready to drill "Edinburgh" just yesterday, and yet we're already preparing to drill another rock in this weekend's plan, a target we've named "Glasgow." Combined with "Hutton," these three drilled samples will give us a wonderful snapshot of the range of compositions of the three major geologic units we've explored in this region."

    Follow the Mars Curiosity rover on Foursquare.

    For information about NASA's partnership with Foursquare.

      Mars Rover Landing - Free for the Xbox 360 (requires Kinect)

      Visit the Mars Science Laboratory page.

    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission - February 18, 2020
    NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Undergoes Memory Update

    Full Article & Image

    "From Feb. 17 to Feb. 29, 2020, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will go on hiatus from its science mission and its relay operations while engineers on Earth conduct long-distance maintenance. During the hiatus, other orbiters will relay data from the Mars Curiosity rover and Mars InSight lander to Earth.

    The maintenance work involves updating battery parameters in the spacecraft's flash memory - a rare step that's been done only twice before in the orbiter's 15 years of flight. This special update is necessary because it was recently determined that the battery parameters in flash were out of date and if used, would not charge MRO's batteries to the desired levels."

    All of the HiRISE images are archived here.

    More information about the MRO mission is available online.

    Mars Odyssey Orbiter - August 23, 2019
    What's Mars Solar Conjunction, and Why Does It Matter?

    Full Article and Images

    "The daily chatter between antennas here on Earth and those on NASA spacecraft at Mars is about to get much quieter for a few weeks.

    That's because Mars and Earth will be on opposite sides of the Sun, a period known as Mars solar conjunction. The Sun expels hot, ionized gas from its corona, which extends far into space. During solar conjunction, this gas can interfere with radio signals when engineers try to communicate with spacecraft at Mars, corrupting commands and resulting in unexpected behavior from our deep space explorers."

    Daily Mars Odyssey THEMIS Images
    Can be found at the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) website.

    The Odyssey data are available through a new online access system established by the Planetary Data System.

    Visit the Mars Odyssey Mission page.

    Journey to Mars - InSight - Revealing the Heart of Mars - February 24, 2020
    A Year of Surprising Science From NASA's InSight Mars Mission

    Full Article and Images

    "A new understanding of Mars is beginning to emerge, thanks to the first year of NASA's InSight lander mission. Findings described in a set of six papers published today reveal a planet alive with quakes, dust devils and strange magnetic pulses."

    Interactive selection of raw images taken by the cameras aboard InSight.

    Learn more about the InSight Mission.

    Mars Missions Status

    New Mars missions are being planned to include several new rover and sample collection missions. Check out the Mars Missions web page and the Mars Exploration page.

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    Astronomy Links and Other Space News

    (If you have a link you would like to recommend to our readers, please feel free to submit it.)

    Green Laser

    Colorado Astronomy Links

    Radio Astronomy Links

    Other Astronomy Links

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    Astronomical Lexicon

    Definitions of astronomical terms. Many of the astronomical terms used in this newsletter are defined here.

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    UT Logo

    Read the Universe Today Newsletter by clicking on the logo.

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    Acknowledgments and References

    Much of the information in this newsletter is from Astronomy® Magazine (Kalmbach Publishing), JPL mission status reports, the Internet, "Meteor Showers - A descriptive Catalog" by Gary W. Kronk, Sky & Telescope web pages, and other astronomical sources that I have stashed on my bookshelves.

    The author will accept any suggestions, constructive criticisms, and corrections. Please feel free to send me any new links or articles to share as well. I will try to accommodate any reasonable requests. Please feel free to send questions, comments, criticisms, or donations to the email address listed below. Enjoy!

    More Acknowledgements and References

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