Hydra the Water Snake and a new frozen “Hoth like” planet

Spring weather here in Maine – Ah, mud-season!  The weather lately has been challenging for stargazers, but eventually we will see clear skies again.  Spring also is the season for Hyrda – The Watersnake who had multiple heads.  If one was cut off, two would grow back in its place! Here is your guide to the sky for May 8 to 14, 2017…

Sun – Earth – Moon

Sunrise this week is at 5:11 am and sunset at 7:53 pm with the Sun moving from Aries into Taurus at the end of the week.  Full Moon takes place on Wednesday at 5:43 pm and the Moon is at apogee on Friday.

Planets in the Sky

Mercury is still hidden in the glow of sunrise this week.  Venus rises in the east at 3:30 am and is low in the eastern sky before sunrise. Mars sets just under an hour after the Sun so look for it in early evening twilight.  Jupiter shines brilliantly in the southeast after sunset.  Look for it above the star Spica in Virgo. Saturn rises in the eastern sky around 10:45 pm and the Moon will be 3 degrees south of it on Saturday.

Planets we can see with our unaided eye lie in our solar system, but astronomers have discovered numerous ones beyond our own.  This past week they announced the discovery of a world resembling “Hoth” from the Star Wars movies.  OGLE-2016-BLG-1195Lb is a world a bit more than 13,000 light years distant from us.  This planet is an icy world about the same distance from its star as we are from our Sun and close in size to the Earth.  The star it orbits is a red dwarf and is much cooler, so the average temperature of this planet is around 400 degrees below 0 F – very cold!  The planet is named after the instrument which found it, and OGLE stands for Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment, a ground-based telescope in the Atacama desert run by Warsaw University in Poland.  This project has discovered 17 exoplanets so far.  While the name is not romantic, it is pretty interesting to find planets similar to ones thought up in science fiction!  A world which has permanent winter – just like Hoth! To learn more about exoplanets check out Emera Astronomy Center all this month for the Friday night program Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe: Exoplanets and New Worlds!

Constellations – Water snake in the sky

Another one of Hercules labors was to defeat Hydra which can be seen at 9:00 pm in the early evening stretching across the southern horizon.  Hydra the water snake, is the largest constellation in the sky covering  just over 102 degrees.  The constellation was first catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century representing the Lernaean Hydra from the Greek mythology who fought with Hercules. Another story is that it is a water snake from the myth about the crow that tried to trick the god Apollo by blaming the snake for its tardiness in fetching the god some water – these are represented by Corvus and Crater which ride on the back of the beast.  The constellation is a challenge to see, but start by finding its head which is between Leo the Lion and the Gemini Twins.  Follow its body along the horizon past Corvus the Crow until it ends near Libra the scales.  It is faint but with a good southern horizon and dark skies you should be able to find this creature.

Hydra – Star chart provided by Heavens-Above.com

Satellites to See…

Tuesday morning look for the International Space Station (ISS) from 3:57 to 4:02 AM moving from southwest to northeast.  It make another great pass on Wednesday morning from 3:07 to 3:10 am moving from south to east. Try seeing it again on Friday morning from 2:59 to 3:03am moving from southwest to east, and on Sunday morning from 2:51 to 2:55 am moving from northwest to northeast.  If you are not an early riser, try seeing the Tiangong 1 on Tuesday evening from 8:50 to 8:55 pm moving from west to southeast, or on Wednesday from 9:11 to 9:15 pm moving from west to South.

Let’s hope the skies will clear and give us a nice view of Hydra and other celestial sites in our Maine Skies, or we’ll have to just be thankful we do not have permanent winter. Happy stargazing and keep your eye on the sky!

Shawn Laatsch

About Shawn Laatsch

Shawn Laatsch is the director of the Emera Astronomy Center and Jordan Planetarium at the University of Maine. He started his astronomy education career in 1984 and has directed planetariums in university and science center facilities, taught undergraduate astronomy courses, and given numerous lectures around the globe. He serves as President (2017 & 2018) of the International Planetarium Society, Inc. the world’s largest organization of planetarium professionals. Shawn has a passion for sharing astronomy and stargazing with people of all ages.