Friday, April 30, 2021

What’s Up May 2021

The evenings are getting warmer and there are plenty of fun things to view in the night sky. Several of the bright planets are visible in May, but only Mars is easily seen in the evening sky. To see Jupiter and Saturn you will need to get up in the early hours of the morning. These latter two planets will move into the evening sky in July. Mercury and Venus are also in the evening sky, but they are close to the setting Sun and difficult to see.

The diagram below shows the evening sky on May 11, the night of the new moon. The full moon occurs on May 26 and is known as the “Flower Moon.” This moon is the second and last “super” moon of the year. It will be slightly brighter than April’s super Moon because it will be closer to the Earth.


One exciting event in May is a full eclipse of the Moon and this will be visible on the West Coast of the US. The diagram below shows the timing of the eclipse for the Rogue Valley in southern Oregon. You will need to get up in the early hours of the morning to see it, but it will be well worth it! 


Last month, I mentioned that the Mars helicopter was scheduled in fly in April and at the time of writing this blog, it had flown successfully three times. The BBC flight video below is fun to watch. More flights are scheduled in May. 


One key event that occurred towards the end of April was Earth Day. In this blog, I typically focus on science and projects beyond Earth, but it is important to note that numerous satellites circle the Earth every day collecting information about the Earth’s climate and health. The diagram below shows satellites launched by NASA that are involved in its climate and Earth science programs.


The diagram shows satellites that are in the definition and design stages (orange and purple) and those that are operational and have had their operations extended (green and turquoise). Note also that some of these projects are based on the International Space Station (ISS). More information about these satellites and the information they gather can be found at and

Some of these are satellites shown in the diagram above are weather satellites that are operated by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). These are collectively known as the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). Three of these satellites (NOAA-15, NOAA-18 and NOAA19) pass over the Rogue Valley twice a day on a north-south trajectory. I use low-cost technology to capture weather images from these satellites. An example of one of my captured images is shown below. You can find the latest images on my website at Just click on the NOAA tab to view the images.

Some weather satellites (known as GOES satellites) fly in higher geostationary orbits. Geostationary means they appear to be stationary from the perspective of a viewer on the ground. I am currently working on a new system to capture these images. An example of such an image is show below.


If you are looking for a fun space project for the whole family, the Boston Museum of Science has a great kit that contains a card sorting game for ordering and classifying some of the objects in our universe. The kit can be downloaded using this link: OurPlaceinSpace.

That is about it for this month. On a finishing note, May 4 is Stars Wars day and so may the Fourth be with you! See you next month.