Welcome to the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report for Monday May 18th through Sunday May 31st.
The new moon for the month of May is on Sunday the 24th and the moon will be at first quarter on the night of Saturday the 30th.
Mercury is at inferior conjunction with the sun on Monday the 18th. An inferior conjunction is when Mercury or Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun. After that date, Mercury will slowly emerge into the morning skies. By the end of the month it will be up about 45 minutes before the sun.
Saturn is high in the south as the sky darkens after sunset and is now the only planet visible in the evening skies. Jupiter and Neptune are still very close together and rise at 2 a.m. on the 19th. By the end of the month the pair of planets will rise at 1:20 a.m. Venus is rising a little after 4 a.m. for the next few weeks, with Mars rising at about 4:30 a.m. The waning crescent moon will join Venus and Mars on the morning of the 21st.
The Herschel and Planck spacecraft successfully launched from French Guiana on May 14th. The two satellites separated shortly after launch and are headed towards the L2 Lagrange point, where they will eventually be joined by the James Webb Space Telescope. The Herschel spacecraft will study the universe in infrared and the Planck spacecraft will explore the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. You can learn more about both missions at www.esa.int
On Monday the 18th, astronauts on the Space Shuttle Atlantis conducted the last of five spacewalks on the Hubble Space Telescope that installed two new instruments, repaired two others and installed components that will keep the telescope working to 2014, the year that the James Webb Space Telescope is due to launch. Two of the five spacewalks ended up in the top 10 for longest duration. Photos and videos from the mission are available at nasa.gov
Public viewing on UT campus telescopes has finished for the spring semester. Summer viewing will start in June.
Thank you for calling the University of Texas Skywatchers' Report and have a happy and safe Memorial Day holiday.