What's Up: The Sky Tonight


Each month on this page, the Big Sky Astronomy club hosts a video, produce by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) featuring the planets, deep sky objects and one or more of the constellations that are visible in our night sky at this particular time of year.


Tonight's Sky, during the month of May, 2019:

  • Sping is upon us and it provides us an opportunity to scan our beutiful night skies. Here's what to look for this May of 2019.

  • The asterism of the Big Dipper in the constellation of Ursa Major provides us a pathway to find other objects. Follow the arc of the handle to Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation Bootes. Then, "spike on down" to Spica, a bright star in the constellation of Virgo, the "Virgin";

  • Spica, rather than being a single star, is actually a binary pair made up of two massive blue-white stars in orbit around each other;

  • When we look at Virgo, we are looking away from the star-filled, dusty plane of our galaxy the Milky Way. Looking in this direction, we have a much clearer view of the space outside of our own galaxy. This region of the sky is filled with distant galaxies;

  • One of the brighter of these distant "island universes" is the lenticular galaxy known as the "Sombrero Galaxy" due to its edge-on appearance. The Hubble Space Telescope has imaged the Sombrero and its dark dusty edge that splits the galaxies northern and southern hemispheres;

  • Located above the Y-pattern in Virgo and lying some 55 million light years distant is the massive Virgo Cluster of galaxies. This group of around 2000 galaxies is achored by the huge elliptical galaxy known as M87. It contains literally trillions of individual suns and, like our own Milky Way, has a supermassive black hole at its center. While the Milky Way' supermassive black hole weighs in at about 4 million times the mass of our Sun, M87's black hole is truly gigantic, with a mass of around 4 BILLION time that of our Sun;

  • The Hubble Space Telescope has imaged M87, revealing its supermassive black hole spewing out a jet of highly energetic particles into space. In another view produce with a radio telescope, the jet shines brightly with radio waves and shows that another jet is being produced in the opposite direction;

  • Adjacent to Virgo is another constellation rich in galaxies - Coma Berenices or Bernice's Hair;

  • Prominent among the galaxies in Coma Berenices is the beautiful spiral galaxy known as M64. M64 is also known as the "Black Eye Galaxy" due to the obvious dark, dusty area in its disk;

  • A Hubble image of M64 shows the dark area to be a massive cloud of dust and gas that is orbiting the galaxy's center in the opposite direction of the rest of the galaxy. This is believed to be the result of a collision with another galaxy far in the galaxies history;

  • Returning to the region around the Big Dipper, we find the small constellation Canes Venatici - the hunting dogs. Located in Canes Venatici is a pair of interacting galaxies known as M51. This galaxy pair is visible in small amateur telescopes. The larger of the two is a beautiful, face-on spiral galaxy that has had a near-miss encounter with its companion;

  • A close-up image of the smaller galaxy in x-ray light shows two massive shock waves rippling out from the galaxy's central supermassive balck hole;

  • Go outside on these nicer May nights and take in the wonders of the spring night sky.

Watch "Tonight's Sky" for May, 2019 graciously provided by the fine folks at HubbleSite.org:

We cordially invite you to

"Discover the Universe with The Big Sky Astronomy Club"