The Star of Bethlehem

The MagiFor centuries astronomers have speculated about the famous Star of Bethlehem, which the three Magi (the three wise men/the three kings) followed to the place of Christ’s birth.  Of course, the star may defy scientific explanation altogether, and be viewed as a miracle.  Nevertheless, various astronomical theories have been proposed, including that the star may have been a comet, or a supernova (an exploding star), or a “planetary conjunction” (a gathering of planets in one part of the sky).  In this column, we’ll examine two of today’s most popular theories, both of which hold that the planet Jupiter played a key role.

Continue reading “The Star of Bethlehem”

Top Ten Father’s Day Star Messages

Father and DaughterFather’s Day is Sunday, June 19 in the U.S., Canada, Japan, China, India, the U.K., Ireland, Mexico and many other countries.  Here are some of the Father’s Day messages Name A Star Live customers have included on their Star Certificates.  (Of course, we’ve changed the names in the messages to protect the privacy of our customers.)

  1. I have named a star just for you, papa.  Please show me where it is so I can always look up into the heavens and think of you when I see it.  I love you!
  2. My daddy has loved the night sky since he was a boy, a passion he has passed down to me. Now I share my love for him by claiming his very own piece of that sky, another beautiful thing for us to share together.
  3. We searched heaven and earth to find the perfect gift for the man who has everything and at last we found it.  So in honor of Father’s Day, we present you with your very own star.
  4. Everyday we think of you and the good memories we have because of you. You are sacrificing for us and we appreciate that very much. To bridge the distance this Father’s Day we send you this gift. We love you so much and wish you a happy fathers day.
  5. Ursa Major: the “big bear” of the sky, because you have always watched over your little cubs 🙂 Happy Father’s Day Dad!
  6. This star is forever in the sky to celebrate your very 1st Fathers Day.   Happy Fathers Day, I love you
  7. I will never forget wishing on stars with you as a little girl. Here’s to all the past, present and future wishes we make. Happy Father’s Day, I love you.
  8. Happy Father’s Day.  Thank you for every single thing you have done for me over the course of my life.  I know you love space, now a small part of it is named after you.  Love, Mike
  9. This is for the Greatest Dad in the Universe.
  10. To my stargazing husband.  You are my star of 21 years.  I love You!

Name A Star Live is the only star-naming service that launches your star name into space: Won’t dad be surprised! The video above shows our latest spaceflight, The Tribute Flight. See our online Launch Schedule….

Name a star for Father’s Day!

The Dog Days of Summer

Buttercup the dog
Buttercup, our CEO's dog, cooling off in the shade during the Dog Days of Summer

Here in the United States, it’s hot. Real hot. Vast areas of the country are experiencing record drought. As the old saying goes, we’re in the midst of the Dog Days of Summer.

You may be surprised to learn that the term “Dog Days of Summer” is based on astronomy. The term dates back to the time of the ancient Egyptians and Romans who associated the first rising of the bright star Sirius — together with the early morning Sun — as marking the onset of very hot weather. In fact, the Romans (falsely) believed the heat from Sirius actually contributed to the hotter weather here on Earth during the summer months. The Egyptians called Sirius “the dog star” (among other names) and also associated its rise with the annual flooding of the Nile river, which was critical to Egyptian agriculture. The Romans, however, saw the Dog Days of Summer as an inauspicious time of year, when disease became rampant in the heat and humidity of summertime Rome.

Sopdet
Sopdit, an ancient Egyptian personification of the star Sirius. Image Credit: Jeff Dahl

Sirius is the brightest star in the nighttime sky, and is in the constellation Canis Major, which is Latin for “the large dog.”

The Romans considered the Dog Days of Summer to run from late July through late August. The Greek word ὀπώρα (Opora) appears in the lexicon of the King James Bible, and basically refers to the part of the year between the rising of Sirius and the rising of another star called “Arcturus,” which basically demarcate the period of time we call the Dog Days of Summer.

In folklore, the Dog Days of Summer were perceived as the time of year when dogs went mad with the extreme heat of summer.

Here is a little ditty from folklore about the Dog Days of Summer – a ditty that often appeared in farmers’ almanacs:

Dog days bright and clear
Indicate a happy year;
But when accompanied by rain,
For better times our hopes are vain

The Dog Days even appear in the Charles Dickens’ classic, wintertime tale, A Christmas Carol:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

Can you officially name stars?

Ancient civilizations assigned proper names to stars and constellations, names that were meaningful to them and marked events, seasons, time of the year, honored gods or leaders.  It was a time when stars had a strong presence in our lives, provided guidance, aspirations and wonder. Name A Star Live gift sets represent the modern representation of a centuries old tradition of naming stars.

One of the questions we are asked by our customers is: “Can you officially name stars?”  The short answer is, “No one can ‘officially’ name a star.”  How is that so?  And what value does Name A Star Live bring to the table?

Many astronomers argue that the “International Astronomical Union” (IAU) – an international organization of professional astronomers – is the only body that can ‘officially’ name stars, celestial bodies and their surface features. Few know that the IAU’s decisions are not enforceable by any national or international law.

Part of the Carina Nebula
Hubble's 20th anniversary image shows a mountain of dust and gas rising in the Carina Nebula. The top of a three-light-year tall pillar of cool hydrogen is being worn away by the radiation of nearby stars, while stars within the pillar unleash jets of gas that stream from the peaks. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

By and large, most astronomers do follow the conventions and recommendations of the IAU regarding the naming of celestial objects.  For example, in 1922 the IAU held a meeting in Rome where the organization agreed upon the names and boundaries of the 88 constellations (areas of the night sky) such as Taurus, Aries, Cancer, etc.  Virtually all astronomers around the world follow the IAU’s definitions of the constellations.

NGC 5584
The brilliant, blue glow of young stars trace the graceful spiral arms of galaxy NGC 5584 in this Hubble Space Telescope image. Thin, dark dust lanes appear to be flowing from the yellowish core, where older stars reside. The reddish dots sprinkled throughout the image are most likely background galaxies. NGC 5584 is about 72 million light-years from Earth, in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Riess (STScI/JHU), L. Macri (Texas A&M University), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

On the other hand, in 2006 the IAU made a very controversial decision concerning the planet Pluto – a decision that has met considerable resistance among many astronomers.  In the 1990s, astronomers began discovering numerous, small planetary objects (such as “dwarf planets”) in the outer reaches of the solar system.  What’s more, in 2003 a planetary body larger than Pluto was discovered in the outer solar system as well.  Astronomers began to worry that with the discovery of so many planetary bodies, the total number of “planets” in the solar system could grow so large as to make the term “planet” almost meaningless.  So in 2006 the IAU created a strict definition of what constitutes a planet.  Under this new definition, the IAU no longer considers Pluto to be a planet, and now states that the solar system has only eight planets, not nine.

Commenting on the IAU’s controversial Pluto decision, Professor Ron Ekers, past president of the IAU, admitted that the IAU’s decisions are not supported by the force of law.  Quoting Professor Ekers from the IAU Web site, “Such decisions and recommendations are not enforceable by any national or international law; rather they establish conventions that are meant to help our understanding of astronomical objects and processes.”

Fair enough: There is a real need within the astronomical community for a common set of definitions and conventions so as to facilitate scientific discourse.   But the point remains that the IAU’s decisions are not, in fact, “official” in any legal sense of the word.

Keith Cowing, the Editor-in-Chief of the prominent aerospace Web site “NASA Watch,” underscored this point when he recently wrote on his site:

If you had a chance to name this new moon [of Pluto] what would you name it – and why did you pick that name? Oh yea, the IAU claims to have a monopoly on naming objects and features in our solar system – and beyond. But there is nothing legally binding to the names they decide to use. Everyone just goes along with them because … well … because. And who gave them this role anyways? Answer: they appoint themselves. So why can’t the rest of us have a say in naming the things in our universe? The IAU is so 20th century. Its time to change this process.

Lunar Reconnisance Orbiter
Artist's concept of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter currently in orbit about the Moon. In response to LRO's "Send Your Name to the Moon" initiative, the spacecraft carries a microchip with nearly 1.6 million names submitted by the public. Similarly, Name A Star Live spacecraft carry our customers' star names into space: We're the only name-a-star company that does this. Image Credit: NASA

Interestingly, other star-naming companies have tried to give the impression that their star names are official.  Some of them have actually made that exact (false) claim.  Some star-naming outfits – essentially trying to imply that they officially name stars – make a point of printing their customers’ star names in a copywritten book, perhaps which is stored in a vault.  Of course, anyone can print a list of star names on pieces of paper, put a copyright symbol (©) on those pieces of paper, and store them in a bank’s safety deposit box.  But that doesn’t make the star names official!

So if the IAU and star-naming companies cannot officially name stars, what value does Name A Star Live provide its customers?

Unlike the IAU and other star-naming companies, Name A Star Live makes the symbolic gesture of naming a star ‘real’ by:

  • Launching our customers’ star names into space, thus making our customers part of real space missions.  NASA does much the same thing when it offers members of the general public the opportunity to include their names on deep space missions.
  • Providing our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy/space software that was developed in collaboration with Rice University and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

These real components of our star-naming service – in addition to our handsome Star Certificates and other documentation in our gift sets – set Name A Star Live apart, and provides meaningful value for our customers.

People around the world have been giving different names to stars for thousands of years.  For example, over the centuries the North Star has been named Alruccabah, Cynosura, Lodestar, Pole Star, Navigatoria, Yilduz, Mismar, Dhruv, Hub of the Cosmos, the Steering Star, and the “star that does not walk.”  Today’s astronomers refer to the North Star with such scientific names as “Polaris,” “TYC 4628-237-1,” “HD 8890,” and “HIP 11767,” to give just a few examples.  None of these names are “official” from a legal perspective.  You could just as legitimately refer to the North Star as “the beautiful star in the north that never moves,” “Betty,” “Ralph,” or any other name you so choose.

The point is, naming a star is a beautiful, romantic, symbolic gesture – something that makes for a meaningful gift.  Name A Star Live – alone of all the star-naming companies – makes it real.  Enjoy!

The Stars and Planets in the Night Sky This Month

Saturn continues to provide the most spectacular sight through a telescope in August 2011.  Look for the beautiful, ringed planet in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo this month.  Saturn will appear above the W-SW horizon around sunset, and will set not long after sunset.  (For those of you in the southern hemisphere, look for Saturn in the W-NW horizon around sunset.)

Jupiter appears in the predawn, eastern sky: It will be the brightest astronomical object you see toward the eastern horizon (other than the moon and the sun!). Currently, it resides in the Name A Star Live constellation Aries.

Mars rises shortly before sunrise over the eastern horizon. Mars is in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus in early August, but moves into the constellation Gemini later in the month.

Mercury will be between the Earth and the Sun for much of August, but you may get a glimpse of this elusive planet toward month’s end in the eastern, predawn sky.

Venus will be behind the Sun for much of the month, and will appear again in the evening sky in October.

When to go stargazing this month

Moonlight ‘drowns out’ the faint light of many stars and other celestial objects, so the best time to view the stars is when the Moon is not visible. If you’re going to stargaze between sunset and midnight, then the best time to do that in August would be during the first few days, and during the last 1 1/2 weeks of the month.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation.

You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!) But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.

You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.

Our Lunar Anniversary

This month our sister company, Celestis, Inc., marks the 12-year anniversary of its first lunar mission.

Celestis helped friends of noted planetary geologist Dr. Eugene Shoemaker include a symbolic portion of Dr. Shoemaker’s cremated remains on the NASA Lunar Prospector mission launched January 6, 1998.

Lunar Prospector
NASA's Lunar Prospector

The spacecraft impacted the lunar surface inside a permanently shadowed crater near the south lunar pole, creating a permanent monument to Dr. Shoemaker. Impact occurred at 4:52 a.m. CDT (9:52 a.m. GMT), July 31, 1999.

Dr. Eugene Shoemaker
Dr. Eugene Shoemaker posing next to a model of the Apollo lunar lander. Image Credit: NASA

Dr. Shoemaker, a pioneer in the exploration of the solar system, had longed to go to the Moon as an Apollo astronaut and study its geology firsthand. A medical condition diagnosed in the early 1960s prevented him from doing so. Dr. Shoemaker went on to help select and train Apollo astronauts in lunar geology and impact cratering. He also worked on NASA’s Lunar Ranger and Surveyor programs. His achievements in these areas earned him the United States’ highest scientific honor, the National Medal of Science in 1992. He became world-renowned when he, his wife Carolyn, and astronomer David Levy discovered Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which impacted the planet Jupiter in July 1994. Quoting from his NASA biography, “His many honors included the Wetherill Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1965, election to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 1980, the Gilbert Award of the Geological Society of America in 1983 and the Kuiper Prize of the American Astronomical Society in 1984.”

Lunar Prospector was one of the most productive, least expensive space missions. Part of NASA’s Discovery Program, Lunar Prospector served as a follow-on to the successful Clementine mission. In fact, Dr. Shoemaker served on the Clementine science team. In 1994, the Clementine spacecraft orbiting the Moon made observations that indicated the presence of water ice on the lunar surface. On March 5, 1998, it was announced that Lunar Prospector had also found evidence suggesting the presence of water ice at both lunar poles.

The presence of water ice on the Moon would facilitate future attempts at lunar colonization. How fitting that Dr. Eugene Shoemaker participated in one last experiment — an experiment that could benefit our future in space.

Looking to the future, Celestis has agreements with Odyssey Moon Limited and Astrobotic Technology, Inc. to launch payloads containing human cremated remains to the surface of the Moon as early as 2012/2013.  Name A Star Live will also include our customers’ star names and messages on board these missions to the Moon!

Name A Star Live CEO to Co-host Space Policy Day for High School Debaters

Name A Star Live CEO Charles Chafer
Name A Star Live CEO Charles Chafer

On August 1, 2011, the Houston (Texas) Urban Debate League (HUDL), in conjunction with the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, will host a cutting-edge seminar—the Space Policy Day. Name A Star Live CEO Charles Chafer is the President-Elect of the HUDL Board of Directors. The seminar will place space industry leaders in front of 200 Houston Independent School District high-school urban debaters and will be Web cast “live” to students and members of the space and educational communities around the world. Name A Star Live will link to the Web cast from our homepage August 1. Scheduled participants include NASA Administrator Charles “Charlie” Bolden, and astronaut Nicole Stott. The program will also include a warm tribute to commercial space pioneer David Hannah, Jr.

Throughout the 2011-2012 school year, debaters across the United States will research, learn about, and debate the complex issues facing the space industry today. HUDL —the nation’s fastest growing and second largest urban debate league serving nearly 1,000 students from 28 high schools—will “launch” the discussion with this truly unique opportunity to learn from the brightest and the best minds in the space industry. Debating space policy prepares these students for careers not only in law business, but also in science, technology, engineering and math.

“Debate season” has already begun for HUDL students. In May, seminars at the University of Houston on Space Policy were led by Dr. Wendell Mendell, Chief, Office for Lunar and Planetary Exploration, Constellation Systems Program Office, NASA Johnson Space Center. Throughout the summer, research and practice are ongoing and culminate in a week-long camp at the University of Houston with some of the most successful college debate instructors in the nation. By September, HUDL debaters start the school year having already participated in over 12,000 hours of research, writing and debating.

In this time of budget cuts and decreasing options for extracurricular activities, HUDL’s well-rounded educational activities have never been more relevant. Participating in debate helps students learn to think critically and improves their overall academic performance. HUDL will begin its fourth academic year in Fall 2011. This year, HUDL will inspire young, emerging leaders who may enter a career in the space industry or advocate for space policy in the halls of Congress.

ABOUT THE HOUSTON URBAN DEBATE LEAGUE:
The Houston Urban Debate League is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that builds, supports, and sustains programs in Houston’s public schools to make policy debate an educational resource available to all students. Policy debate prepares students to be effective advocates for themselves, their families, and their communities. It is also proven to improve student academic achievement, to increase college matriculation, to close the education gap, and to make learning fun. Each year, HUDL serves up to 1,000 of Houston’s most in need high-school students. To learn more about HUDL, visit www.houstonurbandebate.org.

ABOUT THE JAMES A. BAKER III INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC POLICY:
Since its inception in 1993, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy has established itself as one of the leading nonpartisan public policy think tanks in the country. As an integral part of Rice University, one of the nation’s most distinguished institutions of higher education, the Baker Institute has a strong track record of achievement based on the work of Rice University faculty and the institute’s endowed fellows and scholars. To learn more about the Baker Institute, visit www.bakerinstitute.org.

The Eerie Sounds of Saturn

Saturn is one of the most spectacular objects of the night sky.  The beauty of this famous ringed planet is a sight to behold through a telescope!  But did you know that Saturn also is the source of some very eerie ‘sounds’?  Here’s a YouTube video (Credit: SpaceRip) that features an audio rendering of Saturn’s strange symphony of radio waves:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sh2-P8hG5-E]

Northern Lights
The Northern Lights. Image Credit: Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Saturn is a source of intense radio emissions, which have been monitored by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The radio waves are closely related to the auroras near the poles of the planet. These auroras are similar to Earth’s northern and southern lights.  Earth’s auroras occur when charged solar particles impact the Earth’s upper atmosphere, causing atomic particles in the atmosphere to give off radiation of various wavelengths, including visual light (usually green or red colors) and radio waves.  All of this occurs as the charged particles travel down, or along, Earth’s magnetic field lines near the north and south poles.

Earth auroras
Auroras occur at both the north and south poles of Earth. The "Aurora Borealis" occurs at the north pole, and the "Aurora Australis" occurs at the south pole. Image Credit: NASA

The Cassini spacecraft began detecting these radio emissions from Saturn in April 2002, when Cassini was 374 million kilometers (234 million miles) from the planet, using the Cassini radio and plasma wave science instrument. The radio and plasma wave instrument has provided high resolution observations of these emissions, showing an amazing array of variations in frequency and time. The complex radio spectrum with rising and falling tones is very similar to Earth’s auroral radio emissions. These observations indicate that there are numerous small radio sources moving along magnetic field lines threading the auroral region of Saturn.

See the planet Saturn

Saturn is in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo this month, near the bright binary star Porrima.  The word “planet” comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “wanderer,” because the planets move in relation to the background stars.  Over the course of this month, watch Saturn as it gradually moves away from Porrima, toward the bright star “Spica” in Virgo.

Saturn and Porrima in Virgo
Saturn and the bright, binary star Porrima appear close to one another in Virgo in early July. But Saturn will begin to move away from Virgo, toward Spica, as the month progresses.

Saturn’s rings appear more and more impressive as we move through the remainder of this year.  The tilt of Saturn’s rings relative to us Earthlings reached its minimum value for 2011 in June.  The tilt of the rings is growing now, making for a more impressive sight.  In fact, the tilt will more than double by the end of 2011.

If you view Saturn through even a small telescope you should see Saturn’s giant moon Titan, which is an 8th magnitude object.  Titan is the 2nd largest moon in the solar system (Jupiter’s moon Ganymede is the largest.)  This giant moon is composed of water ice and rocky material, has a largely nitrogen atmosphere, and has lakes of liquid hydrocarbons.  Depending on your telescope, you may also see the Saturnian moons Tethys, Dione, Rhea and Iapetus.

This month, Saturn appears toward the northern horizon shortly after sunset for Southern Hemisphere observers, and sets a few hours later.  Saturn appears toward the south-southwest sky for Nouthern Hemisphere observers.  Saturn will be visible in the evening skies for the next couple of months.  Then, toward the end of the year, Saturn will reappear as a morning object (rising in the east shortly before sunrise).

The Other Planets in the Night Sky This Month

Jupiter appears in the predawn, eastern sky: It will be the brightest astronomical object you see toward the eastern horizon (other than the moon and the sun!).  Currently, it resides in the Name A Star Live constellation Aries.

Mars rises shortly before sunrise over the eastern horizon.  Mars is currently in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus.

The elusive planet Mercury may just be visible from your neck of the woods this month.  Look for it right after sunset, low on the western horizon.  If your local weather cooperates, try looking for Mercury on July 3.  You should find the planet roughly between the point where the sun set and the very thin crescent Moon you’ll see toward the west.

When to go stargazing this month

Moonlight ‘drowns out’ the faint light of many stars and other celestial objects, so the best time  to view the stars is when the Moon is not visible.  If you’re going to stargaze between sunset and midnight, then the best time to do that in July would be during the first few days, and during the last week of the month.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation.

You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!) But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.

You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.

Lunar Eclipse June 15

A lunar eclipse — where the Earth’s shadow blocks sunlight from directly shining on the lunar surface — will be visible June 15 to those of you in western Australia, central Asia and Africa, and parts of Europe and South America (weather permitting).  Although Earth blocks sunlight from directly shining on the Moon, some sunlight — refracted (bent) by the Earth’s atmosphere — shines around the Earth and casts an orange glow on the Moon.  So the Moon does not become completely dark.

Lunar eclipse
The Moon during a lunar eclipse. The orange color results from sunlight being refracted (bent) by the Earth's atmosphere. Credit: NASA

The map below shows the areas of Earth where the eclipse will be visible, assuming the weather cooperates.  Those of you toward the west (e.g., South America) should see the eclipse at sunset (when the Moon is rising in the east), and those of you toward the east (e.g., Australia) should see it near sunrise (when the Moon is setting in the west).

World map showing eclipse visiblity
This map shows where the eclipse will be visible on June 15 (weather permitting). Credit: E. Espenak, NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center

The Planets This Month

Saturn dominates the night sky in May: The majestic, ringed planet Saturn appears very close to the bright, binary star named “Porrima” in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo.  If you have a chance this month, take your telescope out and look for Saturn and Porrima together: It is quite a sight to behold!

Saturn and Porrima in Virgo
Saturn and the bright, binary star Porrima appear very close to one another in Virgo this month.

Jupiter appears in the predawn, eastern sky: It will be the brightest astronomical object you see toward the eastern horizon (other than the moon and the sun!).

Venus and Mars rise shortly before sunrise in the east.  On the morning of June 28, a thin, crescent Moon will appear just above Mars, and just below “The Pleiades,” a group of stars commonly confused with “The Little Dipper.”

Mercury will not be visible for most of June.

When to go stargazing this month

Moonlight ‘drowns out’ the faint light of many stars and other celestial objects, so the best time  to view the stars is when the Moon is not visible.  If you’re going to stargaze between sunset and midnight, then the best time to do that during the balance of June would be in the last week of the month.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation.

You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!) But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.

You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.

See the Moons of Saturn

The majestic, ringed planet Saturn continues to dominate the night sky this spring.  You’ll notice it as a bright point of light in the southeastern sky during the evening hours, shortly after sunset.  (For those of you who live in Australia, New Zealand and other areas of the southern hemisphere, look for Saturn in the northeastern sky after sunset.)

If you have a telescope, be sure to take a look at Saturn during the evening hours of May 22 (May 23 for those of you in Australia and other areas of the eastern hemisphere).  On that evening, four of Saturn’s largest moons will appear to be lined up in a row, making for a special visual treat!

Saturn on the evening of May 22
Saturn and some of its largest moons. From left to right: #1 Dione, Saturn, # 2 Tethys, # 3 Rhea, and # 4 Titan. The moon below, # 5, is Iapetus, a somewhat dimmer moon of Saturn than numbers 1-4.

You might want to prepare for the May 22 viewing by finding Saturn in the night sky earlier in the month: This way, you’ll know where to aim your telescope on May 22.  On May 13 (May 14 for those of you in Australia, etc.) the Moon provides a ‘landmark’ (or, perhaps we should say, a ‘skymark’) that you can use to identify Saturn.

Saturn, the Moon and Spica
On the evening of May 13, Saturn will appear near the Moon and the bright star Spica. For those of you in Australia and other parts of the southern hemisphere, see the image below.
The Moon, Saturn and Spica as viewed in the southern hemisphere
The Moon, Saturn and Spica as viewed from the southern hemisphere of Earth on the evening of May 14

Saturn, with its wonderful rings, is indeed an impressive sight through any telescope.  Be sure to take a look at this planetary jewel while the viewing is still good!

The Planets This Month

Saturn dominates the night sky in May: See the discussion above for information on how to find it.

Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Mercury are all ‘morning stars’ this month, barely visible over the eastern horizon at sunrise.  Those of you in the southern US and the southern hemisphere will probably get a better view of these four planets this month than those of you in more northern latitudes.  Look for Jupiter and Mars together, low in the eastern sky on May 1 (May 2 for those of you in Australia and the eastern hemisphere).  On May 11 (May 12 for those of you in Australia and the eastern hemisphere), look for the bright planet Venus and Jupiter to appear close to one another: The elusive planet Mercury will be near Venus and Jupiter that morning as well.

Halley's Comet
Halley's Comet left a lot of dust particles in its wake: Every year, Earth flies through those dust particles, which burn up in our atmosphere as "shooting stars."

See Some Shooting Stars in Early May

The “Eta Aquarid” meteor shower peaks the evening of May 6 (May 7 for those of you in Australia and other parts of the eastern hemisphere).  Although this is not one of the largest meteor showers of the year, it has the advantage of occurring when moonlight won’t interfere (moonlight ‘washes out’ a lot of dim shooting stars).  Depending on where you live in the world and how far away you are from city lights, you may see as many as 70 shooting stars (metors) per hour that evening.

No telescope or binoculars are needed!  Just lay down on a blanket or reclining chair, look up and enjoy!

BTW, the Eta Aquarid meteors are actually tiny dust particles left by Halley’s Comet as it flies through the solar system.  As Earth orbits the sun, our planet passes through the stream of dust left by Halley’s Comet.  When  these dust particles enter our atmosphere at high rates of speed, they burn up, appearing as “shooting stars.”

When to go stargazing this month

Moonlight ‘drowns out’ the faint light of many stars and other celestial objects, so the best time  to view the stars is when the Moon is not visible.  If you’re going to stargaze between sunset and midnight, then the best time to do that this month is during the first five or six days, and during the last week of May.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation.

You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!) But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.

You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.