In a world turned upside down, it’s no wonder folks are looking up. Since the dawn of time, man has searched the stars for answers and adventure, mysticism and merriment. “Looking up reminds me how vast and amazing everything really is,” shares long-time space advocate, and former WYFF journalist, George Schellenger. “I look for anything bright in the sky. Every time we look up, we are actually looking back in time, at stars that sent their light here years ago.”
So how many stars are there? Astronomers estimate there are 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. A Yale astronomer whittled that down to 9,096 that are visible to the naked eye on Earth, and half as many from our vantage point in the Northern Hemisphere.
The glimmer from planets and moons captures our attention, as well. Schellenger, a child of the Apollo era, has fostered an appreciation of the Earth’s moon since his first gas-station-giveaway book and Viewmaster reel. The ocean and space writer and documentary filmmaker has met almost every man who’s walked on the moon, including Neil Armstrong. His office décor includes moon-rock dust, a license plate from Apollo 15’s lunar rover, and as many spacesuit patches as there are craters on the celestial body.
“The moon is our stepping stone to the rest of the universe,” Schellenger explains. “Our instinct is to explore and discover; it’s how we’ve evolved and survived as a species. The stars and planets show us that we and our descendants have a lot of exploring to do. All we have to do is look up to get started.”
May & June Planets
Moon: Full moons will appear May 7 and June 5. New Moons will rise May 27 & June 21, creating excellent, star-gazing opportunities. Mercury: Appears in the night sky toward the end of May. Easiest to see around May 21 & 22 when it passes close to Venus. Well-positioned first half of June. Will be at its highest point above the horizon June 4. Look to the western sky just after sunset. Venus: Typically, the brightest planet in the sky. Will pair up with Mercury at dusk on May 21 & 22. In June, best seen during the morning hours. Will sit between Earth and the sun on June 3. Mars: Brightening and growing in apparent size. Low in the southeast as dawn breaks. Jupiter: Close to dimmer Saturn, low in the southern part of the morning sky. Saturn: A morning object, outshone by Jupiter to the west. Neptune: Low in the southeast during June, as the dawn twilight begins to brighten.
May & June Star Gazing
Big Dipper: Actually, not a constellation, but an asterism, or pattern of stars. The Big Dipper is visible high in the sky during both May and June. Look for the upside-down Big Dipper high in the north. The Big Dipper is part of the larger constellation Ursa Major, forming the Great Bear’s tail and flank. Leo the Lion: During May, look for the “backward question mark.” Use the Big Dipper to find Leo, one of 88 constellations. By May 1, Leo reaches its highest point for the night around 9pm. Little Dipper: This asterism is critical to adventurers. The last star on its handle is Polaris, the North Star, which sits above the Earth’s axis, so it doesn’t move. Face the north sky to locate it. Ursa Minor: Also called Little Bear. Polaris is the tip of the Bear’s tail, with the Little Dipper forming the Bear’s flank. Move beyond the flank to find fainter stars on the tip of the Bear’s nose and paws. Summer Triangle: This asterism is a noticeable triangle with three bright stars from three separate constellation: Deneb from Cygnus the Swan, Vega from Lyra the Harp, and Altair from Aquila the Eagle. In May, the Summer Triangle starts to climb over the eastern horizon after midnight. By mid-to-late June, look to the east at dusk.