There are plenty of good astronomy sights this week and some amazing astronomy news. Jupiter's appearance has radically changed. Pairings of full moon and bright star, Mars and bright star are visible. And we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Halley's Comet's wildest week in modern history.
Jupiter loses its strongest stripe: Even a small backyard telescope can show the yellow-white globe of Jupiter with at least two darkish bands of clouds on either side of its equator. The South Equatorial Belt is usually the most prominent. Once in a great while, however - the last really good occasion was in the early 1990s - the belt will quickly disappear, not to be seen again until it erupts into view a number of months later. Such an event has just happened.
If you do not have a telescope or do not want to get up at 4:30 a.m. to see Jupiter, follow events online. Spaceweather.com had a good article about the vanished belt back May 20, and you can keep up to date at skyandtelescope.com.
Full moon and red giant: A full moon occurs Thursday. Watch it rise soon after sunset, and once the sky gets dark enough, look just below the bright moon. There you will find the orange-red heart of Scorpius the Scorpion, the red giant star Antares.
Double twins: Well above Venus - the brightest point of light at nigthfall - shine a pair of nearly equally bright stars, Pollux and Castor. But way to the upper left are another pair: The brighter is Mars, the dimmer is the star Regulus, the heart of Leo the Lion. Watch Mars approach Regulus all week. Next week they will have a spectacularly close meeting.
100th anniversary of Halley's Comet not destroying Earth: One hundred years ago this week, people watched one of history's better appearances of Halley's Comet. But many also breathed a sigh of relief after one of the biggest end-of-the-world scares ever: Earth's passage through the tail of Halley's Comet.
Scientists said the gases of the comet's tail were too thin to hurt us, but panic broke out around the world. People in Chicago stuffed rags under their doors to keep out the comet gas. Hucksters sold "comet pills" that would supposedly protect people. A man named Adam Toma killed himself, saying he preferred death by his own hand to being "killed by a star." In Newark, the blackmailer of the singer Enrico Caruso became so afraid of the world ending that he confessed to the police about a murder he had committed (headline of the time: "Comet Comes, Murderer Confesses").
In the end, Earth went through the very edge of the comet's gas tail May 19, 1910, and just missed the dust tail hours later. Some wtinesses saw the tail get long enough to stretch two-thirds of the way across the sky and then a vaster glow appear for a while. Then the comet passed, and everything was all right.
Fred Schaaf is a local author and astronomer. He can be reached at: