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Dark Skies Update – May 2024

Dr. M. Charlton
By Dr. M. Charlton

There has been a lot of exciting space activity with China’s Chang’e-5 mission has returning to Earth with the cargo of rock and “soil” it picked up off the Moon. A capsule carrying the materials landed safely in Inner Mongolia. It’s more than 40 years since the American Apollo and Soviet Luna missions brought their samples home.

The new specimens should provide fresh insight on the geology and early history of Earth’s satellite.

For China, the successful completion of the Chang’e-5 venture will also be seen as another demonstration of the nation’s increasing capability in space.

Recovery teams were quick to move in on the returned capsule. It was first spotted by helicopters using infrared cameras. Support staff following up in SUVs planted a Chinese flag in the snow-covered grassland next to the module.

The Chang’e-5 venture was launched at the end of November.

A probe comprising several elements was sent into orbit around the Moon. These elements then separated, with one half going down to the lunar surface.

The lander system used a scoop and a drill to dig up samples. It’s not clear how much, but possibly in the range of 2-4kg.

An ascent vehicle subsequently carried the materials back into lunar orbit where they were transferred to an Earth-return module. This was shepherded home by a fourth element and released just before it had to make the fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere. (BBC)

On top of this has come news of planet K2-18b? A planet twice as big as Earth emitting gas ‘only produced by life(?) has sparked a flurry of excitable reports and “analysis”

Planet K2-18b – which is more than twice as big as Earth and 124 light-years away – sits within the habitable zone of its star in the Leo constellation.

Scientists said last year they thought they’d detected dimethyl sulphide gas in its atmosphere – a compound that is ‘only produced by life’.

Now, to confirm the finding, the James Webb Space Telescope will undertake hours of observations of the planet on.

We will however have to wait several months for the results to be authenticated and published.

You are not going to see K2 18b but its in the area of M66.

And finally SpaceX made it into orbit without mishaps- watch this space!– the

What are the highlights for May?

We have the Eta Aquarids meteor shower – active throughout the month. These are definitely for the insomniac as they are best seen around 03.00 to dawn. This shower is a cosmic remnant of Halley’s comet. Halley’s is next due in 2061.

May is a month for Galaxy spotting.

If you use the three stars highlighted above, you can see the Sombrero Galaxy – also known as M134 – as a smudge in binoculars.

May also sees a thin moon on 8th / 9th May. This is when only a very small percentage of the moon is visible. Good luck at spotting this feature.

A clear night and 7×50 binoculars should give you a really good view.

Good spotting.

Check out the website for activities at Dalby Forest Dark Skies area