StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley

MAY  1997
036    MAY 4, 1997:   Adios Hale-Bopp
This will probably be the last good week to see Comet Hale-Bopp, at least until its next predicted return, about 4377 AD. But do not despair, there will be many other bright comets between now and then, and some of them will occur in your lifetime. Look for H-B in the west northwest, about one fist above the horizon between 9:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Because of H-Bís low altitude, you will need a good horizon unobscured by lights, buildings, or trees. Binoculars may prove useful because there is often a haze layer near the horizon which makes objects more difficult to spot. While youíve got your binoculars handy, point them towards Mars, now due south and midway up in the sky at 9:30 p.m. The extra light-gathering ability of your binoculars should make orangy Mars dazzle against a black sky. Take time to focus accurately, then notice Sigma Leonis just to the left of Mars. Watch over the next 1-1/2 weeks as Mars catches up to this star, then passes just south of it around the 15th. The moon will also pass Mars around this time too! You can pick up the May issue of StarWatch at the ASD Administration Center. Call 821-2600 to insure copies are available. The map is courtesy of Sky and Telescope.

Comet Hale-Bopp finder chart
037    MAY 11, 1997:   Sighting Corvus
About two hours after sundown, follow the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper, high in the northeast, past red Arcturus (due east) to blue-white Spica, low in the south. Two fist widths to the right and slightly below Spica will be a quadrilateral of four stars in a rather barren part of the sky. You have found Corvus, the Crow, his hunched back positioned away from Spica. Originally, crows were beautiful and sang with a melodious tone, but Corvus changed all that. As Apolloís most trusted messenger, he was dispatched to bring his master a cup of refreshing water. Dallying by the spring until he could feast upon some ripening figs, Corvus instead returned with a water snake, claiming that it had prevented him from filling the cup. He was lying of course, for as he spoke, pieces of fig leaves fell from his beak. Apolloís punishment was severe. Black he became, with a croaking voice, banished to the back of a water snake (Hydra) with a cup (Crater) of clear, cool water just beyond reach. Moral of this story... Donít ever anger the gods, especially when you are in their employ!.
038    MAY 18, 1997:   Fall Constellations in the Spring
Do you want to see some fall constellations in the spring? Then get up about 4:30 a.m. and look east. You will be witnessing the debut of the autumn lineup: Andromeda, the Chained Maiden, Pegasus, the Flying Horse, Aquarius, the Water Carrier, and Capricornus, the Sea Goat. The Great Square of Pegasus (really the body of the horse) will appear due east as a large square of four relatively bright stars tipped over onto one of its corners. The star farthest to the left, Alpheratz, has three more stars which trail leftward, parallel to the horizon. You are now looking at the brightest segment of Andromeda. You may have noticed an extremely bright "star" to the right of east. Thatís Jupiter in the constellation of Capricornus. Between Jupiter and the Great Square lies the "dawning of Aquarius." Fall constellations in the spring...? Keeping this same rationale in mind, it is nearly possible to view any portion of the heavens at your convenience as long as you donít mind the time of night that youíre out making your observations. Watch the brightening moon. It is full early on the morning of the 23rd.
039    MAY 25, 1997:   Quarter Moon
Now that the moon is past full, it will be rising later each evening. Look for the waning gibbous moon to be above and to the left of Jupiter on Wednesday morning at about 4:15 a.m. Late Thursday the moon will be at third or last quarter rising about 2:10 a.m. Friday. The term quarter moon is interesting, because it does not apply to the moonís appearance in the sky, but rather to how much of its phase period has elapsed. It is obvious that when the moon is full, all of the surface visible from earth is illuminated. When the moon is new, it is the far side which is receiving sunlight, and the hemisphere in our direction is dark. At first quarter, the moon has completed one quarter of its phase cycle, roughly 7-1/2 days, and appears only half illuminated. The hemisphere to the right (closest to the sunís position) shines, while at third or last quarter, it is the left hemisphere which is lit. You can always tell when a quarter moon is occurring because the terminator, the boundary between the sunlit and dark hemispheres of the moon appears straight. It takes 29-1/2 days for the moon to complete a phase cycle, and from this we get the "moonth" or month!