Saturday Night: Alignment At Our Galaxy's Core

Moon and Saturn

Waning gibbous moon near Saturn in our sky (look eastward after 11 pm).

Stellarium.org

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Something special happens in the sky Saturday night, May 13.  The Moon will hover next to the planet Saturn.  And they’ll both be aligned with the center of our galaxy.  Cool stuff.

And useful.  You don’t really need the Moon to act as an usher to guide you to Jupiter, because Jupiter is so brilliant it attracts attention on its own.  But Saturn is merely a somewhat bright “star” and doesn’t particularly stand out.  So having the Moon float alongside it is very helpful.  Both celestial bodies are in Sagittarius, which resembles an archer to the same extent that I resemble Brad Pitt.  It actually looks like a teapot and is labeled that way on most modern star charts.  The teapot is below Saturn and the Moon.

So happens, that’s where the center of our galaxy is located, some 25,000 light-years away.  Every star in the sky revolves around that spot.  It is the locus of all motion.  If that’s not enough to make it special, there’s more.

A few years ago, astronomers discovered a huge double-bubble of gamma rays emanating from that spot.  The source is ultra powerful and so enormous, it takes up half of our southern sky.  And it’s an utter mystery, because no known process can create that much energy.  So this enormous hourglass figure, one soap bubble balancing atop another, and now usually called the Fermi bubbles, is centered just below the Moon and Saturn on Saturday night.  A lot of power right there.

If you own a small telescope, the Moon is in its waning gibbous phase and is optimally illuminated to show lots of juicy craters and mountains.  And Saturn is visually the most mind blowing planet.  Seeing those glorious rings only requires 30 X magnification, so a small telescope will do the job nicely.

And if all you have are your baby blues, then just drink in the stars below and to the right of this conjunction.  This is the famous Sagittarius and Scorpius pairing, with the Scorpion’s famous orange star Antares well to the right of the Moon and Saturn. There’s a lot to love here, and the price is right.

But you can’t be one of those people who hits the hay at 9 PM.  The entire scene doesn’t rise until 11:00 PM, or nicely clear the horizon until midnight.  It’s highest and best seen around 2 AM.  However, if you’re coming home from a late night party, take a moment while you fumble for your keys, and look up.

About This Blog

Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s blog on stargazing and astronomy. Wondering which bright objects you’re seeing in the night sky? Want to learn about a breathtaking sight coming up? Bob Berman, longtime and famous astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, will help bring alive the wonders of our universe. From the beautiful stars and planets to magical auroras and eclipses, we’ll cover everything under the Sun (and Moon)!

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