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Youth Astronomy


What you will see on a clear night in

May-June 2016

Constellation: The Big Dipper (part of the Great Bear)

Double Stars: Alcor & Mizar

Solar System: Jupiter, Mars, Saturn & The Moon

Finally, we are enjoying spring weather. Snow has given way to green grass, tulips, daffodils as well as budding trees and bushes. In the sky, changes have taken place as well. ORION the hunter, the largest and brightest winter constellation, has left us. Orion will be replaced by the Summer Triangle in July-August. 

What happened to Orion with its 3-star belt? Most constellations relocate from east to west as the Earth rotates around the Sun. Constellations such as Orion, which is well below the North Star, disappear in the west late in the day. Orion will return next winter.

Gone with Orion is SIRIUS, the brightest winter star. Replacing it is ARCTURUS, the brightest spring-and-summer star. Here's how you find Arcturus: First, locate the BIG DIPPER high overhead to the north. Then draw an imaginary arc-shaped line beyond the handle of the Big Dipper and you will see Arcturus.

That's why some astronomers exclaim, "Let's arc to Arcturus." Continue your imaginary line to the right of Arcturus and you will spot the star Spica.  

The Big Dipper

The seven-star BIG DIPPER--the most well known star configuration in the night sky--is a circumpolar grouping, which means that we see it year-round because it is close to the North Star. The Dipper is part of the constellation URSA MAJOR (Big Bear).

Locate the Dipper's bowl. If you draw an imaginary line beyond the two end stars of the bowl, you will find THE NORTH STAR. Many people think that the North Star is the brightest in the night sky. Not true! It's way down on the brightness scale (close to no. 50 on the brightness scale). However, it is in the same spot every night because it is above the Earth's axis.

Big Dipper

The North Star is the lead star of the seven-star LITTLE DIPPER, which pours into the bowl of The Big Dipper. But you have to be at a very dark site-like a farm or a cottage away from city lights-to be able to make out The Little Dipper.

There is something unique about one of the seven stars of the Big Dipper. Look carefully at the second star from the end of the Dipper's handle and you'll spot a double star, ALCOR & MIZAR. The star duo is more definitive with binoculars or a telescope.


On May 1, JUPITER appeared high in the south as a large “star,” --brighter than Arcturus. By late June it will be low in the west-southwest. If trees, homes or buildings are obstructing your west-southwest view, have your parents drive you to Wilmot Line, a road that branches off Erb St., just past the Waterloo landfill. A good place to park on Wilmot Line is on a hill 2.2 km from Erb St., near a 60 km/h road sign.

Even though Jupiter looks like a star, it has a diameter 11 times than of Earth.  The giant of the solar system, Jupiter takes 12 years to orbit the Sun--about the same time you've been on Earth! The fifth planet from the Sun is a huge gas ball of helium and hydrogen so big that its volume would contain 1,300 Earths.


This video of Jupiter shows its moons in different positions.

Are you aware there are about 150 moons in the solar system? Because of the powerful magnetic fields of the four gaseous planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune), they have most of the moons. Since Jupiter has 65 moons, some observers refer to the giant planet as a mini solar system.

With binoculars, you may be able to make out Jupiter’s largest moons—called Galilean moons after the early astronomer who discovered them, Galileo. These four moons will pop out quite clearly if you view them with a telescope. In addition, you will likely see bands going across the planet; these are layers of gas.

Saturn & Mars






Beginning early-to-mid-June, SATURN and MARS will appear as “stars” in the southeast fairly close to each other. The brighter of the two, Mars, will be upper right of Saturn.  By late June, the pair will have moved to the south-southeast.

Mars has an orange tinge—which can be verified with high-power, good quality binoculars—which is from the planet’s rust-coloured surface.

Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun, is the only planet astronauts will ever visit because the other planets are too hot or are gaseous giants. Did you know that Mars has the longest canyon as well as the highest mountain of any planet in the solar system?

Although the diameter of Mars is half that of Earth, its Valles Marineris Canyon is 4000 km long, ten times that of the Grand Canyon! Furthermore, the planet's extinct Mount Olympus volcano is 24 km high, more than twice as high as Mount Everest!

You will need a telescope to find Saturn’s dramatic rings. Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun. Is there anyone in your family 30 years old? That’s how long it takes the ringed planet to orbit the Sun. Although the gaseous planet appears tiny in a telescope, it is the second largest planet in the solar system. It would take 10 Earths to span Saturn’s diameter and 20 Earths to span its rings.

The Moon

The brightest object in the night sky--some astronomers say the most rewarding--is the MOON. Between May 10-to-21 and between June 8-to-20, the Moon will display its early evening phases:

  • May 21 & June 20: full Moon
  • May 10 & June 8: crescent Moon.
  • May 13 & June 12: first quarter Moon.

The photo below shows the Moon between crescent and first quarter.


Craters and "seas" (the grey areas of the Moon) can be easily picked out with binoculars or a low power telescope. The secret to viewing the night sky with binoculars is to keep them as steady as possible: either mount them on a tripod or sit back in a lawn chair that has a tilted back.

Where to look for the Moon after sunset? The crescent phase will appear in the west, the quarter phase in the south and the full Moon in the east.

Did you know that the Moon's craters are the result of our closest celestial object being pummelled and battered by giant space rocks or asteroids? If the Moon had an atmosphere, the craters would have long eroded away from wind and water erosion like what happened here on Earth. But because there is no atmosphere on the Moon, the craters have not changed ever since they were formed.

The Moon's craters and mountains are most dramatic if you look near the terminator, the line that separates the dark side from the sunlit side. That's because the shadows created by the Sun are the longest. If you look through a telescope, you can even spot crater walls disappearing into the shadows.