Discovery of the First Asteroid
On Jan. 1, 1801, Fr. Piazzi saw a bright object in his telescope. Unlike the stars, it was moving. Over the next few nights he saw that it moved faster than Mars but slower than Jupiter. He correctly concluded that it was located somewhere between the two planets. Naming it after the goddess of agriculture, he christened it Ceres. Ceres is the largest and only round asteroid. It is now classified a dwarf planet.
Correction: In issue 28 of the Focal Points newsletter, the weight of the Russian Meteor is 10,000 tons, not pounds.
What’s in the Sky in May
Venus is back! If you have a clear view of the horizon, you can see the shrouded planet just after sunset early in the month. Otherwise you should be able to spot it in the west after sunset (it is very bright) around the middle of the month. It will be higher in the sky each night as the month progresses.
But what a month for planets! Jupiter will be lower and lower in the west as the month flies by, and will be do a two-step with Venus near the end of the month. They will draw very close by the 26th, and be side by side on the 27th and 28th. Venus is the brighter of the two. Point them out to your friends after your Memorial Day Bar-B-Q.
If you have dark skies, you may be lucky enough to spot Mercury. Typically, Mercury is difficult to spot under the light-polluted sky of Orange County. This tiny planet will be hovering near Venus all month, and will form a tight triangle with Jupiter and Venus on the 26th. On the 31st, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter will form a straight line, each planet about an equal distance from each other, with Mercury at the top and Jupiter at the bottom of the line.
The best night to spot Saturn is on the 22nd, when it will be to the left of the moon.
New Moon: May 10th
Full Moon: May 25