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Luna in the sky with diamonds

Saturday, May 10: Celebrate Astronomy Day by taking a look at the night sky. After dark, say around 9:30 to 10:00, under --we hope-- a clear sky, look in the direction of the first-quarter Moon. To the lower right of our pock-marked neighbor you will see three bright "stars" floating in the still darkening sky. The first of those isn't a star at all. That first reddish object is the planet Mars. To the right of that are two of the genuine article: stars Pollux and Castor, the "head" parts of the constellation Gemini. Higher in the sky, nearly overhead, the ringed planet Saturn can be seen to the east of the star Regulus; the pairing makes them easy to spot. Look carefully: can you see the slightly golden tint to Saturn's light compared with the star's cooler color?

If you have binoculars or a small telescope the Moon is always an excellent subject for viewing. A partial-phase Moon is more interesting than a full Moon to view through binoculars or 'scope.  Craters, mountains, and other features are accentuated by a low sun angle and long shadows.

The night of May 10 brings a special treat to those viewing our nearest neighbor in space. Using binoculars or telescope look just to the right of the Moon and you should see a fuzzy patch or, ideally, a small cloud of diamond-like stars gracing Luna -- that's the open star cluster M44, commonly called The Beehive Cluster. The cluster is made up of hundreds of stars located together about 577 light years from us in the constellation Cancer. Sometimes the Moon passes between Earth and M44 --an event called an occultation-- but not this time.

Some area science museums, planetaria, and groups will be observing Astronomy Day in various ways -- check with your favorites to learn of their plans. You can also enjoy the night sky more privately and from the convenience of your backyard with your own eyes.

For nearby activity check out:

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