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Astronomy From Your Back Yard - 5/26 to 6/1 2010

By Dave Grosvold

The Sun in hydrogen-alpha light
After an unusually long solar minimum, activity on the Sun is picking up, with sunspots and other magnetic phenomena frequency increasing. Solar activity should continue to increase until the next solar maximum, which is expected in 2013.

Solar images taken in red hydrogen-alpha light reveal much more information than the while-light images you might see through a normal solar filter. Hydrogen-alpha (Hα) light is a specific red wavelength of light produced by the emissions of the hydrogen fusion process in stars. Astronomers use a special filter that allows only light of this wavelength to pass through and be recorded either on film or by digital sensors. You might want to learn more about the Sun at the Solar and Heliopsheric Observatory (SOHO) site.

Caution - Never look directly at the Sun! Always understand and use the proper filters and equipment before attempting to view sunspots or other solar phenomena.

The “Pillars of Creation”
Vega, in the constellation Lyra the Lyre, now shines brightly in the east-northeast after dark. Vega is the first star of the Summer Triangle asterism to appear above the horizon each night starting in the Spring. Deneb, the second of the three apices of the Summer Triangle, can be found about two or three fist-widths to Vega's lower left. Deneb is in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. Being the third star of the Summer Triangle, in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle, Altair rises late in the evening significantly farther to Vega's lower right. Aquila is the home of the Eagle Nebula (M16), the site of the “Pillars of Creation” image, made famous by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Full Moon occurs at 6:07 PM CDT,on Thursday, May 27th. Look for ruddy Antares just 1° or 2° to the Moon's lower right, as well as other surrounding stars of the constellation Scorpius. The Moon's glare will be bright; binoculars will give the best view. During the course of the evening, watch the Moon move with respect to these background stars.

Venus is less than 3/4° from the 3rd-magnitude star Mebsuta (Epsilon Geminorum) Thursday and Friday evening. Look carefully, because Venus is 600 times brighter than Mebsuta.

These comparison photos of Jupiter taken by amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley and posted by The Planetary Society show the planet's lost Southern Equatorial Belt on May 9, 2010.
Ceres, the largest asteroid and first to be discovered, is passing close by the Lagoon Nebula (M8), in Sagittarius this week. Ceres is magnitude 7.5, well within binocular range. The Lagoon reaches a good observing altitude in the south-southeast by about 1:00 AM. Ceres will be closest to the Lagoon on the night of June 1st.

Comet C/2009 R1 (McNaught) is nearing its period of best visibility, low in the east-northeast just before the start of dawn. Since it is faint, you'll need to bring a telescope or (perhaps) binoculars to see it. Check out the finder chart at the Heavens Above web site.

Jupiter is below the Circlet of Pisces, an asterism in the Pisces constellation, all this week. Jupiter shines in the east-southeast in the early morning hours of dawn, climbing higher each week. Jupiter has lost its South Equatorial Belt (SEB) in recent weeks, which is a very rare event. A lucky break, because the disappearing belt makes the Great Red Spot much easier to see in small telescopes.
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