Supernova are the result of the catastrophic explosion of a giant star. The energy emitted is beyond belief, outshining the output of 10 billion stars.
There are several types of supernova but one, Type 1a, is of particular interest to astronomers in that they emit an essentially constant level of brightness and can be used as celestial yardsticks to measure distances in the universe. By knowing the theoretical brightness of a Type 1a and the observed brightness, its distance can be calculated by the inverse square law.
Recently, the most distant Type 1a has been discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope. Situated at 10 billion light years away, the supernova, called SN Wilson after President Woodrow Wilson, will give clues as to the creation of supernova and also to the nature of dark energy — the mysterious force behind the universe’s accelerating expansion.
“This new distance record-holder opens a window into the early universe,” said Dr. David Jones of Johns Hopkins University and a lead investigator. “We’ve never seen an object like this so early in the universe.”
Focus on the Planets
Saturn will be visible the entire night in May but the most spectacular sight will come during the last week of the month when Venus, Jupiter and Mercury form a tight triangle low in the west-northwest shortly after sunset.
Mercury appears low in the northwest at mid-month joining Venus and Jupiter. Look for Mercury on May 24 just to the upper right of Venus when it is closest to its much brighter neighbor.
Venus is low in the west-northwest just after sunset. It will continue to climb on the horizon and grow brighter as the month continues.
Mars will be lost in the glare of the Sun during May.
Jupiter starts the month high in the west-northwest after sunset well to the upper left of Venus. They edge closer to each other as the days pass heading for their close pairing during the last week of the month.
Saturn is high in the southeast an hour after sunset and remains in view throughout the night. Saturn is starting to shrink and dim a bit however the tilt of its ring system still makes for excellent viewing of the two rings and the gap between them. Titan, the largest of Saturn’s four moons and the second largest moon in the solar system, is easily spotted by telescope.
Uranus in Pisces and Neptune in Aquarius at dawn are a viewing challenge. The website skypub.com/urnep provides finder charts for these two far distant planets.
1 Sunrise, 5:26 a.m.; sunset, 7:40 p.m. Today is May Day or Beltane, a cross-quarter day marking the midpoint between the spring equinox and summer solstice.
2 Moon in last quarter, 7:16 a.m.
6 Tonight is the peak night for viewing the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. The Eta Aquarids are bright, swift and often leave persistent trains. Typically a strong shower of between 30 to 50 meteors per hour, viewing will be hampered by a short window of opportunity, roughly 3:00 a.m. to dawn, the Moon’s rise at 4:00 a.m., and a low radiant that all combine to cut the sightings by about one-half.
10 New Moon, 8:31 p.m. Venus is immediately to the Moon’s upper right looking to the northwest shortly after sunset.
12 Jupiter is to the Moon’s lower right with Betelgeuse to Jupiter’s left.
13 The Moon is at apogee or farthest distance from the Earth today.
14 The Sun enters Taurus on the ecliptic.
17 Regulus the “heart of Leo” is directly above the Moon.
18 Moon in first quarter, 12:35 a.m.
20 The Sun enters the astrological sign of Gemini but astronomically is still in Taurus.
22 Look for the Moon and Saturn to be almost side by side tonight.
24 Venus with Mercury close to its upper right and Jupiter a bit higher to the upper left form a tight grouping in the west-northwest about an hour after sunset. Watch this triumvirate switch positions almost nightly during the coming week.
25 Full Moon, 12:26 a.m. The full Moon of May is commonly known as the Flower Moon and also the Milk Moon and Corn Planting Moon.
26 Moon at perigee or closest approach to Earth. Coming less than twenty-four hours after being full, abnormally high tides can be expected.
31 Moon in last quarter, 2:59 p.m. Note that Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury now form an ascending diagonal line in the early evening hours. Sunrise, 4:53 a.m.; sunset, 8:13 p.m.
Send astronomical queries to Clair Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org or care of the Bangor Daily News, Style Desk, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402.