Fred Barrett | May 01, 2019
I thought that for this column, I would begin by describing a picture of nothing. “Nothing?”, you say! Well actually, I’m being a bit misleading. The first real picture of a black hole was released by scientists of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration on April 10th. Black holes have such a strong gravitational field that light and all other forms of radiation cannot escape its pull – we can’t see it directly. Image data acquired from 8 radio telescopes spread across the world and using a technique called Very-Long-Baseline-Interferometry created a virtual telescope around the same size as the Earth. The images were stitched together using advanced image processing software and the picture shows the outline of a super massive black hole with more than 6 billion times the mass of our Sun situated in the middle of Messier 87, a galaxy about 53 million light years from Earth. A ring of light surrounds a black circle which is the black hole. The light in the image comes from radiation produced by hot matter being drawn into the black hole behind it and being bent around the hole by its tremendous gravity. It is bright on the left because the radiation light is coming towards us and dim on the right because it is moving away. The black hole is about the diameter of our Solar System. We have our very own black hole sitting in the middle our Milky Way galaxy although it’s much smaller than the one in Messier 87. Astronomers are trying to get a picture of it too. Most galaxies in the universe are believed to have black holes at their centre.
Early May has the Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaking on the 6th. It actually is viewable from April 19th to May 28th. Of course, around the peak is the best time. The meteor’s radiant is in Aquarius, which rises from the eastern horizon about 10pm, and they will appear all over the sky coming from the direction of Aquarius. The meteors are the dust and debris from Halley’s Comet that were produced by its countless passes around the Sun. Halley is currently far off in its orbit around the Sun but on May 6th, we will be plowing through this debris trail. It should be a great display because the new Moon occurs May 4th. With no Moon to speak of, a predicted peak rate of 40 meteors per hour should provide quite a show.
On May 6th, Mars is very noticeable in the west soon after sundown to the left of the base of Auriga. Also, the waxing slim crescent Moon is just above Aldebaran in the Hyades star cluster. During May, Jupiter rises in the southeast about an hour or so after sunset. It remains a bright beauty in binoculars or telescope until morning. Mercury is no slouch. It can be seen in the east in morning twilight in early May. By month’s end, it returns for evening twilight in the northwest. Saturn is rising to a high in the south by sunrise and Venus is low in the east. Another treat is on May 10th. The crescent Moon can be observed next to the naked eye Beehive cluster M44 in the constellation Cancer after sunset. Later, the Moon drifts past the front of the cluster.
May 2nd: Venus is 4 degrees above the Moon at 8 am.
May 4th: New Moon
May 6th: Eta Aquarid meteor shower peak.
May 7th: Moon passes 3 degrees south of Mars around 8pm.
May 11th: First quarter Moon
May 13th: Moon is at perigee (closest) – 366,865 Km.
May 18th: Called the Full Flower Moon for obvious reasons. It is also referred to as the Full Corn Planting Moon.
May 20th: The Moon crosses 2 degrees north of Jupiter.
May 26th: The Moon is at apogee (farthest) – 401,790 Km. Last quarter Moon.
That’s a wrap. It should be a great month. Keep looking up!
“The Beginner’s Observing Guide by Leo Enright is an invaluable companion for adventures in the sky. It also contains useful star charts. It can be ordered from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada at www.rasc.ca/publications. A subscription to our very own excellent Canadian astronomy magazine “SkyNews” can be arranged at the RASC website as well.