Does this sound familiar? Clear skies are forecast the night of an astronomical event. You set the alarm and go to bed with high hopes, only to wake up at the appointed time to overcast skies. That happened to me and a few other people who attempted to see this morning's lunar eclipse.
Not to be outfoxed by clouds, I checked the satellite weather photos, spotted clear sky 30 miles away and sped south in my car. But despite getting all green lights I never made it to the moon. Clear, pale blue sky taunted me from the edges of the southern horizon, but Luna set before my vector could lift the veil.
I turned around and headed back home. Eclipse photos from friends awaited me on my phone. I felt grateful that they had had the opportunity to view the eclipse. As for the aurora, no one saw it last night (May 25-26) but not because of the lunar glare. It never showed! Apparently, the frenzied swarm of solar electrons and protons dallied somewhere along its 93-million-mile journey to Earth and won't arrive until later this afternoon and early evening, May 26-27.
Looking ahead, we have an interesting and very close conjunction of Venus and Mercury on Friday, May 28th. Mercury has thinned to a narrow crescent in the past few weeks while also growing fainter. Meanwhile, Venus has gotten a bit easier to see because it's moved in the opposite direction — up from the sun.
As Mercury slides back into the solar glare it passes just 0.4° (less than one full moon diameter) south of Venus. Venus will be bright enough to see without optical aid but not its temporary companion. Mercury's only sort of bright at second magnitude and too faint to spot in twilight without binoculars.
To behold their union, find a place with a wide-open view to the northwest and start watching about 45 minutes after sundown (sunset times here) when Venus stands about 5° high. Point and focus your binoculars on the bright planet. Then as the sky darkens, look for a faint point of light to its lower left and bid Mercury farewell for now.
After its conjunction with the sun on June 11th, the smallest planet returns to the morning sky at the end of June ready for another go. Closer in time, the slightly-past-full-moon rises in a much darker sky tonight, May 26th, and will make a more dramatic, post-sunset appearance at the southeastern horizon than it did last night. Watch for it by checking your moonrise time here.
"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer for the Duluth News Tribune. Read more of his work at duluthnewstribune.com/astrobob.