Dusk And Dawn Planet Antics / Comet SWAN Update

Venus (top) and Mercury (in the gap) pair up during evening twilight on May 19. Tonight they’ll be closest — separated by the width of your little finger held at arm’s length. Bob King

If it’s clear tonight grab your binoculars and your naked eyes and look low in the western sky 45 minutes to an hour after sunset. You’ll see Venus still bright and just below it the planet Mercury. They’re in conjunction tonight just one degree apart. Then on Saturday evening catch the pair again along with a challengingly-thin lunar crescent (31 hours “old” from the East Coast; 34 hours from the West). The moon will be higher up and easier to spot on Saturday the 24th in case you have difficulty tomorrow.

The thin crescent moon butts in on May23 and 24 as Venus departs. Stellarium

Dawn is often considered a quiet time. Not in May. Every living thing suddenly finds its voice. Creatures like frogs and white-throated sparrows stay up all night while others join the chorus at first light. This morning I heard boreal  and barred owls, woodcocks, a sedge wren, frog and toad choruses, sparrows and even an agitated beaver slap his tail on the water. I swear even Jupiter and Saturn hummed!

Comet SWAN still looks like a comet this morning (May 21 at 3:25 a.m. CDT) but its head is fading fast.  Details: 200mm telephoto at f/2.8, ISO 400 and 55-second exposure. Bob King

This morning I got up a second time to check on Comet SWAN. It continues to fade, dropping a half-magnitude in two days. Now at magnitude 7 it looks faint even in 10×50 binoculars. A camera will still do it justice as will a telescope, but it’s clear that SWAN’s once-bright head has dimmed like a flashlight in need of fresh batteries. By this weekend SWAN will appear higher in the evening sky than in the morning which will make viewing easier for most of us. Here are maps to find it.

Saturn (left) and Jupiter are reflected in a bog north of Duluth at dawn Thursday morning, May 21. The planets are just under 5° apart. Bob King

Rising at dawn seems uncomfortable at first but nature soon gets you in the mood. Birdsong and the swelling light at the eastern horizon always fill me with good cheer. The Milky Way streams directly overhead, and Jupiter and Saturn stand sentry-like over the gray landscape. On a short stroll down the road their reflection in the bog caught my eye and made me stop in my tracks. My favorite moments under the night sky are when heaven and Earth touch like this.

3 Responses

  1. Edward M Boll

    U6 Lemmon is near magnitude 7 now with 4 weeks to brighten yet. It does not have a very close Perihelion. But it could brighten yet by a couple magnitudes. It has been over cast here the last 3 days, and may clear off by Saturday.

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