See the Planet Uranus

This month take a look at the planet Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun.  You can find Uranus by first finding the bright planet Jupiter, which you’ll see almost due south around 9:00 pm local time.  (For those of you in the southern hemisphere of Earth — such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa — Jupiter will appear almost due north around 9:00 pm this month.)  Through a pair of binoculars or a telescope, Uranus will appear as a pale green dot, up and to the left of Jupiter (down and to the right of Jupiter, if you’re in the southern hemisphere).   Try observing when the Moon is not up as moonlight can drown out Uranus’ faint light.  If you have particularly good eyesight and are far from city lights, you might even see Uranus with your naked eye on a clear, moonless night.

Uranus
Hubble Space Telescope image of the planet Uranus, its rings and large moons. The bright moon on the lower right corner is Ariel, which has a snowy white surface. Five small moons with dark surfaces can be seen just outside the rings. Clockwise from the top, they are: Desdemona, Belinda, Portia, Cressida, and Puck. Uranus has a total of 27 moons. Credit: NASA

With a surface area approximately 16 times that of Earth, Uranus is a really large planet, not as big as mighty Jupiter, but large nevertheless!  It’s also the coldest planet in the solar system: Unlike the other planets, Uranus has a cool planetary core.  Uranus is the 2nd ‘lightest’ planet in the solar system: It’s composed primarily of hydrogen, helium and methane.  This means that even though Uranus is much larger than Earth, if you could somehow stand on the surface of Uranus, the amount of gravity you would experience there would be only 89% of Earth’s gravity.  For example, a 100 pound child on Earth would weigh only 89 pounds on Uranus.

Uranus was discovered in 1781 by the German-born British astronomer (and musician) Sir William Herschel.  Herschel named the planet “George’s Star” after Britain’s King George III.  The grateful king awarded Herschel a stipend.  But astronomers soon referred to the planet as “Uranus,” naming this green giant after the classical god of the sky, Uranus, who was the father of Saturn, and the grandfather of Jupiter, the king of the gods in classical mythology.

Seeing planets this month

The mighty planet Jupiter again dominates the night sky this month.  Jupiter is the bright point of light you’ll see toward the south after sunset (towards the north, if you’re in the southern hemisphere of Earth): It’s easy to spot.

Venus and Saturn will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo in November.  Both planets are low on the eastern horizon around sunrise in mid-November.  Look for the two planets about an hour before sunrise: Saturn will be above the planet Venus.

Saturn and Venus
Saturn and Venus in the predawn sky, mid-November 2010

Mars is on the other side of the Sun now, so we cannot see the Red Planet this 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.

Green Comet Approaching Earth

A pale green comet is approaching Earth in one of the closest astronomical encounters of its kind in centuries.  “Comet Hartley 2” promises to be the brightest comet of 2010.  If you travel far from city lights, you may be able to see the comet near the Name A Star Live constellation Cassiopeia in early October.

Comet Harltey 2
A pale green interloper among the stars of the Name A Star Live constellation “Cassiopeia,” Comet Hartley 2 (center of image) shines in this four-minute exposure taken on the night of Sept. 28, 2010 by NASA astronomer Bill Cooke. Still too faint to be seen with the unaided eye, the comet was 18 million miles (29 million kilometers) away from Earth at the time. Cooke took this image using a telescope located near Mayhill, New Mexico, which he controlled via the Internet from his home computer in Huntsville, Alabama. Name A Star Live customers who purchase a Deluxe or Ultimate Gift Set have the opportunity to view their stars – and other celestial objects – through an online telescope as well. Image Credit: NASA/MSFC/Bill Cooke, NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office

Comet Hartley 2, a small comet about ¾ to 1 mile (1.2 to 1.6 km) in diameter, was discovered in 1986 by Malcolm Hartley, an Australian astronomer. It orbits the sun about every 6.5 years, and on October 20 the comet will make its closest approach to Earth since its discovery. In this case, “close” means 11 million miles, or 17.7 million kilometers.  However, as the Moon will be close to full at that time of the month, your best chance of viewing the comet at a convenient time of night will actually be in early October, when the Moon will not be a factor.  Note that even relatively “bright” comets like this one can be difficult to see as their light is ‘spread out’ compared to the light of a star, for example.   So be sure to find a really dark spot to get a good look through a pair of binoculars or a telescope.

Comet Hartley 2 Near Cassipeia
On the night of October 8/9, the comet will appear among a beautiful double-cluster of stars in the constellation Perseus, which is next to the Name A Star Live constellation Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia resembles a big "W" in the early evening sky toward the north-northeast at this time of the year. Check out the comet with a good pair of binoculars, or with a telescope. You'll need to view the comet far from city lights. The comet’s position that evening is marked by the red “X” in this star chart.

A NASA spacecraft called “EPOXI” (formerly known as “Deep Impact”) will fly past Comet Hartley 2 in early November and take photos of the comet’s nucleus.

Seeing planets this month

The mighty planet Jupiter dominates the night sky this month.  Jupiter is the bright point of light you’ll see toward the east after sunset: It’s easy to spot.

If you’re away from city lights and have a good telescope or a good pair of binoculars, you may even see the planet Uranus near Jupiter.  It will appear as a pale green dot nearby, just to the east of Jupiter.

Venus and Mars are low on the western horizon around sunset in early October.  Mars will be just to the north of Venus.  Both of these planets will set shortly after sunset.  Venus will become increasingly difficult to see as the month progresses.

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.

Big Bang a Big Hit

It seems that students of the stars can become stars themselves judging by CBS’s hit television series “The Big Bang Theory.”  The show is a prime time leader in the 18-49 year old age demographic, and is well-worth checking out whether you’re young or young-at-heart.

bang season 4,bbt guest star,Big Bang Theory,episode 2

A scene from a recent episode where Apple  Computer C0-founder Steve Wozniak (right) virtually meets Big Bang Theory character “Sheldon” at a restaurant via Sheldon’s robot (left).  Photo: Robert Voets/CBS

This popular sitcom is about Leonard and Sheldon, who are brilliant physicists, the kind of “beautiful minds” that understand how the universe works. But none of that genius helps them interact with people, especially women. All this begins to change when a free-spirited beauty named Penny moves in next door. Sheldon, Leonard’s roommate, is quite content spending his nights playing Klingon Boggle with their socially dysfunctional friends, fellow CalTech scientists Wolowitz and Koothrappali. However, Leonard sees in Penny a whole new universe of possibilities … including love.

While this all makes for funny episodes, the series is based on real science.  David Saltzberg, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, is a consultant for the program.  He provides the scientific equations, diagrams and jargon that appears in each episode.

With episode titles such as “The Robotic Manipulation,” “The Lunar Excitation,” “The Einstein Approximation,” and “The Lizard-Spock Expansion,” you can see that this is a television series that can make astronomy fun for anyone!  Check out The Big Bang Theory on CBS Thursday evenings at 8 pm Eastern, 7 pm Central.

Jupiter and the Stars

Now is the time to see the giant planet Jupiter: Astronomers say this is the best time to see Jupiter in half a century.  Also, as one of Jupiter’s large bands of clouds has temporarily disappeared, this is an opportune time to see the famous Great Red Spot.

Jupiter and the Great Red Spot
Jupiter and its Great Red Spot. The brown cloud band that often makes the Great Red Spot difficult to see has temporarily disappeared. (May 18, 2010 photo by Anthony Wesley, Murrumbateman, Australia)

You can easily spot Jupiter with your naked eye.  Starting in mid-September, just go outside and face east around 10 pm. You can’t miss it: The very brightest point of light you see shining in the east is the planet Jupiter.

Take a look through your telescope at this giant planet.   If you’re lucky, you’ll see the Great Red Spot — although it won’t appear bright red.  When the Great Red Spot was discovered over 100 years ago, it was brick red.  But since then it has faded in color, and is now pale brown, or tan.  Often the Great Red Spot blends in with the surrounding brown clouds on Jupiter.  But as those nearby clouds have temporarily disappeared, this is a great time to find the Great Red Spot against a bright white background!  If you don’t see the Great Red Spot, try again the following evening — or even over the course of a few evenings.  It takes about 10 hours for the Great Red Spot to circuit Jupiter.  Or visit this Web site that will tell you when the Great Red Spot will be visible from your part of the world.

If you’re away from city lights and have a good telescope or a good pair of binoculars, you may even see the planet Uranus near Jupiter.  It will appear as a pale green dot nearby.  Toward the beginning of September, look slightly above, and to the right of Jupiter.  By mid-September, look slightly above Jupiter.  Toward the end of the month, look just to the left of Jupiter.

Venus and Mars are also visible in September: Venus is low on the western horizon around sunset and is a very bright object.  Mars will be just to the north of Venus.  Both of these planets will set shortly after sunset, especially toward the end of the month.  If you have a very clear view of the western horizon, you might also get one last glimpse of Saturn, down and toward the north of Venus and Mars.

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.

Astrology and Astronomy

What’s the difference between “Astrology” and “Astronomy?”  Can you really believe the daily horoscopes you read in the paper or online?  Do the stars and planets hold the key to your future?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary astronomy is, “the study of objects and matter outside the earth’s atmosphere and of their physical and chemical properties,” while astrology is, “the divination of the supposed influences of the stars and planets on human affairs and terrestrial events by their positions and aspects.”  Astronomers use telescopes and deep space probes to study the planets and stars, while astrologers make predictions about our daily lives based on the positions of the planets, or the stars under which we were born.

Astrology is very popular: According to a 2005 Gallup poll 25% of Americans believe in astrology.  Over 90% of young adults in the United States know their birth signs.   Americans spend over $200 million every year on astrology.  Astrology has even influenced America’s national leaders: First Lady Nancy Reagan consulted a San Francisco astrologer as she advised President Reagan on his daily White House schedule.  Yet while the scientific community views astronomy as a science, it views astrology as a pseudo-science – as pure hokum.   Who’s right?

Zodiac Signs in the US Capitol
Signs of the zodiac inside the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Credit: Architect of the Capitol

Interestingly, astrology gave birth to modern astronomy.  Astrology traces its origins back 3,500 years to ancient Babylon.  The Babylonians paid careful attention to the appearance of certain bright stars each year so as to determine when to plant and harvest crops, and when to hold their annual religious rituals.  They also believed the appearance of different planets were omens of when to wage war, when to marry, etc.   For these reasons, the Babylonians had a strong incentive to carefully study the motions of the planets and stars.

The Babylonians established the astrological signs used today, which include Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.  These are the constellations (areas of the night sky) through which the sun appears to move throughout the course of each year.  In ancient times the sun appeared to be in the constellation Aries in late March and April of each year.  And so people who were born during that time of year were said to have the birth sign of “Aries.”   The Babylonians applied the same logic for the remaining 11 birth signs.

Astrology continued to motivate the study of astronomy for thousands of years until astronomy and astrology parted company just a few hundred years ago.  Indeed, such notable astronomers as Galileo, Copernicus and Kepler practiced, or contributed to, astrology.

Astrological Symbols
Astrological symbols used to represent various objects in the solar system.

The Debate

Today’s scientists make a number of arguments against astrology:

  • They’ve conducted statistical studies that show there is no relationship between people’s personalities and birth signs.
  • They question why astrologers focus on the alignment of planets and the stars at the time of a person’s birth, as opposed to the time of conception.
  • Until just a few centuries ago, the outer planets of the solar system – such as Uranus and Neptune – had not been discovered.  Does this mean, scientists ask, that the horoscopes created during the previous millennia were incorrect?  And given that we keep discovering new planets in our solar system, doesn’t this mean today’s horoscopes cannot be trusted?
  • If astrologers really can predict the future, they should be making a ton of money on Wall Street.  So why aren’t they all superrich?
  • If, as astrologers believe, the positions of the planets at the time of birth influence one’s personality by virtue of each planet’s gravitational force on the infant, then what about the gravitational force exerted by the doctor who delivers the infant?  After all, it can be mathematically proven that the gravitational force exerted by a distant planet on a baby’s body is insignificant compared to the gravitational force exerted by, say, a human near the infant.
  • If, as some astrologers concede, the gravity of the planets does not affect humans at the time of birth, what planetary force does?
  • If, as some astrologers maintain, the distance of planets from each infant doesn’t matter, why do astrologers focus so much on planets?  Why not take into account the positions of distant galaxies, for example?

Astrologers respond to these sorts of critiques as follows:

  • Scientific studies of astrology are based on random samples of people with different birth dates and personality types.  But astrology rejects the notion of randomness in the universe.
  • Astrology is not a precise science like physics or chemistry: it’s more holistic.  We make broad statements about the future.  For example, your horoscope might indicate that, “Today is a good day for you to conclude that business deal.”  But your horoscope won’t advise you when you should buy 1,000 shares of AT&T!
  • In a sense, astrology does take into account all of the galaxies in space – as well as the positions of the planets – since astrology focuses on the constellations, which include not only the planets of our solar system, but galaxies and other astronomical objects as well.
  • The discovery of new planets doesn’t mean past horoscopes were wrong, only that they were incomplete.  As new planets are discovered, horoscopes become more accurate.
  • Regarding conception vs. birth … While most horoscopes are based on the date of a person’s birth (“birth sign”), there are astrologers who base their horoscopes on the time of conception.  We each have a choice of horoscopes to follow!
  • As to what planetary forces do affect humans at birth, astrologers remind astronomers that there is much about the universe that astronomy has yet to explain.

Furthermore, astrologers argue, many thinkers advocate a more holistic view of humanity and our place in the universe – a view that integrates science, spirituality, psychology, religion, and philosophy.  This new approach is based in large measure on the evolution of the natural and social sciences.  For example, in its study of the development of personality, psychology first focused on the influence of the family, then the influence of society, and is now exploring the influence of the environment/nature (“eco-psychology”).  The next logical step for psychology may very well be “astro-psychology,” a.k.a. “astrology.”  In physics, the eminent physicist Dr. John Wheeler (a colleague of Albert Einstein, and who is credited with the analytic “discovery” of black holes) postulated in his cybernetic theory of the universe that essentially all cause and effect is due to cosmic ray fluctuations – the software driving a digital universe.  We know that the moon influences animals, human female cycles, etc.  We know the sun (through charged particles) has fundamental influences on human behavior, health, and technology.   Quantum physics underscores the interconnectedness of all matter in the universe, and the illusory nature of time and space.  In short, these insights from science itself open new ways of thinking about how the universe – including the planets and stars – affect us in our daily lives.

Astrology will likely continue to be debated in the scientific — and religious — communities.  Perhaps most people  will continue to read their horoscopes just for fun!

Wish Upon Some Shooting Stars

Get your cosmic umbrella ready, for you may get caught in the best meteor shower of the year this month!

The night of August 12/13 will be the optimum time to see “shooting stars” in 2010.   (For those of you in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India and other parts of the eastern hemisphere, your optimum night will be August 13/14.)

Shooting stars are very tiny meteors – basically, dust particles or small ‘pebbles’ – that burn up in a flash of light as they enter Earth’s atmosphere.  These meteors are leftover bits of comets that have passed by Earth in years past: As comets pass by Earth from time to time, they leave a trail of small debris in their wake.  This debris remains in the solar system.  As Earth revolves around the sun each year, Earth passes through the trails of debris.  Each August, Earth travels through a particularly dense trail of debris from a comet called “Comet Swift-Tuttle” that last visited Earth in 1992.

A comet and its two tails
Comets have two tails: Dust particles come from the bright, white tail. When those particles enter Earth's atmosphere and burn up, they become meteors, a.k.a. "shooting stars." The light, blue tail is composed of charged, atomic particles called "ions."

To See the Shooting Stars: All you need to see the shooting stars is a clear sky (away from city lights), a lawn chair, and either:

  • Mosquito repellent if you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth; or
  • Winter clothing if you live in the southern hemisphere of Earth!

Wait for the moon to set, and go outside close to midnight.   Then, lay down on your lawn chair or on a blanket and look up: You don’t need a telescope or binoculars.  You might see as many as 50 shooting stars per hour!  You should see more and more meteors per hour as the night progresses, until just before dawn.  One caveat, though: How many meteors you can see per hour is pretty much hit-or-miss.  Predicting meteor showers is sorta’ like predicting rain showers: It’s not an exact science yet!  But you should see a number of shooting stars. (Don’t forget to make a wish!)

As you see the shooting stars, try to notice where they are coming from in the night sky.  If you have one of our Planisphere constellation finders, you’ll notice the stars appear to be coming from the constellation “Perseus.”  Hence, this annual meteor shower is called the “Perseid Meteor Shower.”

Enjoy the view … and may all your wishes come true!

~

When You Wish Upon A Star
by Louis Armstrong

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

If your heart is in your dreams
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
As sweet fulfillment of their secret drowns
Like a boat out of the blue
Fate steps in and see’s you through

Moma when you wished upon a star
Your dreams come true

[Instrumental break]

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
As sweet fulfillment of their secret drowns
Like a boat out of the blue
Fate steps in and see’s you through

Baby when you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true
When you wished upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Your dreams come true

A Triangle of Planets!

A trio of bright planets will gather together in the Name A Star Live constellation “Virgo” in early August, putting on quite a show for stargazers around the world!

To enjoy this heavenly treat, go outside about 45 minutes after sunset each night during the first week of August and face west.  (See diagram below.)  The red planet Mars, the beautiful ringed planet Saturn, and the hot and cloudy planet Venus will fly in a triangular formation that will change from night-to-night.

Triangle of Planets
Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury -- toward the western horizon -- about 45 minutes after sunset on August 28

Moreover, if you have a good, clear view of the western horizon you might also see the elusive planet Mercury.  If trees, buildings, hills or other structures are in your way, try to observe Mercury from an elevated location, like a hilltop or an upper-level office in a skyscraper or other building.

Back to the planetary triangle:  On August 1, Mars and Saturn will be quite close to one another, while Venus will stand aloofly apart.  But over the course of the next week, Venus will lose its shyness and gradually move closer and closer to Mars and Saturn.  By August 8, the three planets will form a compact triangle.

But don’t let appearances fool you!  While these three planets may appear to be close to one another, in reality they are quite far apart: On August 8, Saturn will be about 951 million miles (1.5 trillion kilometers) from Earth; Mars will be about 190 million miles (305 million km) from Earth; and Venus will be a paltry 72 million miles (115 million km) from Earth.  To put all that in perspective … If you could drive your car to nearby Venus at the leisurely rate of 55 miles per hour (about 89 km/hour), it would take you 149 years to get there!

July 2010 Night Sky

Want to see where your star is 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.

A Bullet from Another Galaxy

N49 -- A supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud
This beautiful composite image shows N49, the aftermath of a supernova explosion in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy located near our own Milky Way. A new long observation from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, shown in blue, reveals evidence for a bullet-shaped object being blown out of a debris field left over from an exploded star. The object is traveling at about five million miles per hour. Click on the photo for more information. Credit: X-ray: (NASA/CXC/Penn State/S.Park et al.); Optical: NASA/STScI/UIUC/Y.H.Chu & R.Williams et al

The Planets This Month

Several planets are visible with the naked eye in July, including Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.

  • Venus is the bright object you’ll notice in the western sky around sunset this month. It is in the constellation Virgo throughout July.
  • Above Venus is the red planet, Mars, which is in the constellation Leo for most of this month, but moves into Virgo July 19.
  • Above Mars is the ringed planet, which is in the constellation Virgo all month. If you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth, look for Saturn toward the southwest after sunset. If you live in the southern hemisphere, look for Saturn toward the northwest after sunset. Like all the other planets, Saturn gradually moves west across the night sky. In fact, Saturn will be visible through most of each night in June.
  • If you’re an early bird, then you can see Jupiter in the hours before sunrise in July.  If you’re in the northern hemisphere of Earth, Jupiter will be the bright object in the sky almost due south at sunrise.  If you’re in the southern hemisphere, Jupiter will be almost due north at sunrise.   Next to Jupiter is the planet Uranus, but you’ll need a telescope to see it.
Views of Jupiter showing missing cloud band
The giant and stormy planet Jupiter has gone through a makeover, as seen in these comparative Hubble Space Telescope images taken nearly 11 months apart. Several months ago the dark Southern Equatorial Belt vanished. The last time this happened was in the early 1970s, when we didn’t have powerful enough telescopes to study the change in detail.
Left
A Hubble picture from July 2009 captures the planet’s familiar appearance from the past several decades with alternating zones of high altitude ammonia ice crystal clouds (white strips) and belts of lower altitude material (dark strips). The image was taken to study a wispy patch of dark debris in the far southern hemisphere caused by the suspected explosion of an asteroid plunging into the lower atmosphere on July 19, 2009.

Right
A Hubble picture from June 2010 reveals a slightly higher altitude layer of white ammonia ice crystal clouds that appears to obscure the deeper, darker belt clouds of the Southern Equatorial Belt. The Hubble Jupiter team predicts that these clouds should clear out in a few months.

Hubble also resolved a string of dark spots further south of the vanished belt. Based on past observations, the Hubble Jupiter team expects to see similar spots appear in the Southern Equatorial Belt, right before the white clouds clear out in a few months.

These natural colour comparative planet portraits were taken in visible light with Hubble’s new Wide Field Camera 3.

Credit: NASA, ESA, M. H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley, USA), H. B. Hammel (Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado, USA), A. A. Simon-Miller (Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, USA) and the Jupiter Impact Science Team.

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June 2010 Night Sky

Want to see where your star is 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.

Star-forming galaxies like grains of sand

Thousands of galaxies crowd into this recently-released Herschel Space Observatory image of the distant Universe. Each dot is an entire galaxy containing billions of stars. These galaxies are located in the constellation Ursa Major, one of Name A Star Live's constellations. Credit: European Space Agency

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

The Planets This Month

Several planets are visible with the naked eye in May, including Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.

  • Venus is the bright object you’ll notice in the western sky around sunset this month: It will set in the west a couple of hours after sunset. It is in the constellation Cancer now.
  • Mars is in the constellation is in Leo this month: If you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth, Mars will appear toward the west-southwest after sunset. If you live in the southern hemisphere, Mars will appear toward the north-northwest at sunset.
  • The ringed planet Saturn will be to the east of Mars — in the constellation Virgo. If you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth, look for Saturn toward the southwest after sunset. If you live in the southern hemisphere, look for Saturn toward the northwest after sunset. Like all the other planets, Saturn gradually moves west across the night sky. In fact, Saturn will be visible through most of each night in June.
  • If you’re an early bird, then you might see the mighty planet Jupiter as it rises above the eastern horizon before sunrise this month. Next to Jupiter is the planet Uranus, but you’ll need a telescope to see it.
This illustrates the relative sizes of Uranus, Earth and Earth's Moon. The images are shown at the proper relative size, but not the correct relative distance from each other. Uranus is approximately 31,000 miles (50,000 kilometers) in diameter, or about four times the size of Earth. The Earth is approximately 7,900 miles (12,800 kilometers) in diameter, or about four times the diameter of the Moon, 2,100 miles (3,500 kilometers). Credit: NASA, ESA and L. Sromovsky (University of Wisconsin)
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May 2010 Night Sky

Want to see where your star is 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 new, 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.

Galaxy Cluster
Galaxy Cluster MACS J025.4-1222. Click image above to view video.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC, M. Bradac (University of California, Santa Barbara), and S. Allen (Stanford University)

The Planets This Month

Several planets are visible with the naked eye in May, including Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.

Saturn
Hubble Space Telescope photo of Saturn: Note the aurora at the bottom of the planet. Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Clarke (Boston University), and Z. Levay (STScI)

  • Venus is the bright object you’ll notice in the western sky around sunset this month: It will set in the west a couple of hours after sunset.
  • Mars is in the constellation Cancer this month: If you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth, Mars will appear toward the south after sunset. If you live in the southern hemisphere, Mars will appear toward the north at sunset.
  • The ringed planet Saturn will be to the east of Mars — in the constellation Virgo. If you live in the northern hemisphere of Earth, look for Saturn toward the southeast after sunset. If you live in the southern hemisphere, look for Saturn toward the northeast after sunset. Like all the other planets, Saturn gradually moves west across the night sky. In fact, Saturn will be visible through most of each night in May.
  • If you’re an early bird, then you might see the mighty planet Jupiter as it rises above the eastern horizon shortly before sunrise this month.