Every month, AY About You outlines the night sky in these easy-to-digest guides. And stargazing in May is another one for the books.
This month features local astrophotography from Arkansan Tony Milligan. You can find more of his spectacular photos on his website, Captured in Time.
Third Quarter: May 3
New Moon: May 11
First Quarter: May 19
Full Moon: May 26*
The full moon of May is known as the Flower Moon, simply following the reasoning behind the “April showers bring May flowers” proverb. This month’s full moon will also be a Super Moon, marking back-to-back months with Super Moons.
Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower: April 19-May 28
Peak night(s): May 6, 7
One of the better annual meteor showers peaks this month, capable of raining 30-60 meteors per hour. The largest displays are typically most visible in the Southern Hemisphere, but plenty of “shooting stars” can also be seen in the Northern Hemisphere. What makes the Eta Aquarids even more special than simply its production is that it consists of debris left behind from Halley’s Comet, one of two annual showers that we can credit to the famous comet. This is an early morning event, becoming most visible in the east at around 3 a.m.
Planets and Special Events
May 3, 4: Conjunctions of the Moon, Saturn and Jupiter
On the dawn of May 3, the Moon and Saturn will have a close approach in our sky of about 4 degrees. The following morning, the Moon will find itself in a similar dance with Jupiter. Each instance will be both a conjunction (same right ascension of the objects) and an appulse (close in proximity).
May 12: Mercury at Dichotomy
Mercury reaches the half phase of its April-June evening apparition this month, also known as its dichotomy, which simply means that half of its Earth-facing side will be visible. From May 12-18, it will reach its highest point in the sky at 19 degrees, making this block of time the best to view the innermost planet. (The height of Mercury will peak on May 17 at its Greatest Eastern Elongation.)
May 13: Conjunction of the Moon and Mercury
The Moon will have another conjunction on May 13, this time with Mercury and at night. The pair will appear within around 2 degrees of each other and become visible at 8 p.m. above our western horizon in the constellation Taurus.
May 15: Conjunction of the Moon and Mars
Not to be outdone, the red planet will also spend a little quality time with the Moon this month, and at a closer proximity than the other conjunctions. On May 15 the pair appear a little over 1 degree apart, becoming visible at dusk and will set at around midnight. Look to the west at nightfall in the constellation Gemini.
May 29: Conjunction of Venus and Mercury
As May wanes to an end, Venus and Mercury will have a conjunction so close the pair will fit within the same view field of a telescope, at around a quarter of a degree of separation. However, the event won’t be well placed for observation, as the two will be only about 9 degrees above the horizon — not impossible, just find a dark spot that’s relatively flat and free of trees. Look to the west at around 8:30 p.m. for optimal viewing; both planets will sink below the horizon by 9:30 p.m.
BONUS: Check out the International Space Station or SpaceX’s Starlink satellites
Did you know you can see the orbits of the International Space Station (ISS) and some of SpaceX’s satellites in real-time?
For the ISS, visit NASA’s Spot the Station platform.
For Starlink, visit the Find Starlink platform.
Both are as easy as inputting your location and then the sites automatically populate the dates and times that the orbiters are visible for you.
In the News
NASA’s Mars Helicopter Completes First Flight on Another Planet (New York Times)
The brief test of the experimental vehicle called Ingenuity shows how explorers can study the red planet from the sky as well as the ground.
No public events this month. Stay home and stay well.
The best stargazing results are always going to be under the darkest of skies. So, if you can, find a place as far away from city lights as possible when stargazing in May.