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Dawn dance of the planets

Sunday - 5/1/2011, 12:22pm  ET

shuttleendeavor_nasa.jpg
This Week's Astrophoto: Endeavour's Final Roll (NASA)
Greg Redfern, wtop.com

What's Up The Space Place has a new look on WTOP's website. Now entering my 7th year writing and reporting on all things space and astronomy I hope you like the format. You can join me and other astronomers at George Mason University Observatory this Wednesday, May 4th at 9 p.m. for our public observing session.

Skywatching Highlights

  • For the whole month of May four planets will be in the eastern pre-dawn sky - Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter. Each clear morning about 30 minutes before sunrise, it will be worth taking a look at how the planets are changing their positions relative to one another. The only problem is that they will not be very high above the horizon. An unobstructed horizon and binoculars will be needed to see this ongoing celestial dance.

  • Saturn is well up in the southeastern sky at sunset. The rings are opening wider and are spectacular in a telescope.

  • New Moon is on the 3rd, First Quarter Moon is on the 10th and this month's Full Moon occurs on the 17th. This month's Full Moon is called the "Full Flower Moon" in recognition of the blooming of spring flowers. Last Quarter Moon is on the 24th. Just before dawn the waning crescent Moon passes above Jupiter on the 29th, Mars and Venus on the 30th and Mercury on the 31st.

  • The International Space Station (ISS) will be easily visible in the evening hours for the first week of May. While it is currently unknown as to when Endeavour will launch, when she does we might be able to watch the two flyover at the same time as they prepare for docking. That would be a sight indeed as this is Endeavour's last flight.

  • The eta Aquarid Meteor Shower will peak on the morning of May 6th. These fast - 148,000 mph - space particles are from Halley's Comet. You won't see large numbers of meteors but those you do see can be bright with long trails.

Here are our down to Earth events for this month:

Got a Topic That Interests You? I literally have a whole universe of topics to select from for my column. But I'm interested in hearing from WTOP readers about what interests them. Feel free to contact me at skyguyinva@gmail.com with your suggestions and comments. I have also started a daily blog that you can follow here.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)