May brings us the peak of above average Eta Aquariid meteor shower on the nights of May 5 and 6 but the highlight of this month is a possible intense meteor storm on May 23 and 24 as Earth passes through the dust trail left by Comet 209P/LINEAR in its past orbits. Nothing is certain at this time, but many mathematical models are predicting that this could be the most intense meteor shower in more than a decade.
Comet PanSTARRS (C/2012 K1) will be visible all month long in binoculars and telescopes shining as magnitude 7 or 8. It will skim the sky below the Big Dipper and the best times to see it will be on dark, moonless nights, at the beginning of the month and again from May 17 to early June.
On May 29 Comet 209P/LINEAR, the source of this month's possible meteor storm, makes a close pass by Earth at .0554 AU (~8.3 million km / 5 million miles).
May 5, 6 – Eta Aquariid meteor shower peak. This meteor shower runs annually from April 19 to May 28. Eta Aquariids are dust particles left by well known Halley's Comet. This is an above average shower capable of producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. Most of the activity is seen in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, the rate can reach about 30 meteors per hour. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius, two degrees southwest of the fourth magnitude star Gamma Aquarii, but can appear anywhere in the sky. The best place to look to see as many meteors as possible is not at the radiant itself, but at any dark patch of sky which is around 90° away from it, since it is at a distance of around 90° from the radiant that meteors will typically appear at their brightest.
May 7 – Comet 209P/LINEAR perihelion. The comet will reach perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun, at a distance of 0.97 AU around 00:00 UTC.
May 10 – Saturn at opposition. Planet Saturn will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph it. A medium-sized or larger telescope will allow you to see its rings and a few of its brightest moons.
May 10 – Comet 209P/LINEAR. You may be able to spot this small faint comet as it passes Big Dipper and Leo on May 10 through 27.
May 10 – Astronomy Day. Astronomy Day is an annual event intended to provide a means of interaction between the general public and various astronomy enthusiasts, groups and professionals. This event was started in 1973 by Doug Berger, the president of the Astronomical Association of Northern California. His intent was to set up various telescopes in busy urban locations so that passersby could enjoys views of the heavens. Since then the event has expanded and is now sponsored by a number of organizations associated with astronomy. The theme of Astronomy Day is "Bringing Astronomy to the People," and on this day astronomy and stargazing clubs and other organizations around the world will plan special events. You can find out about special local events by contacting your local astronomy club or planetarium.
May 13 – Alpha Scorpiid meteor shower peak. Some shooting stars will be visible each night from April 20 to May 19, but the best show from this meteor shower is expected on or around May 13. The maximum number of meteors expected to be visible from a dark location is around 5 per hour. The Moon will be 14 days old at the time of peak activity, and being so close to full moon, will severely limit the observations.
May 14 – Full moon – 19:16 UTC. The Moon will be directly opposite the Earth from the Sun and will be fully illuminated as seen from Earth. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Flower Moon because this was the time of year when spring flowers appeared in abundance. This moon has also been known as the Full Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon.
May 17 – Comet PanSTARRS (C/2012 K1). The comet will be visible all month long in binoculars and telescopes shining as magnitude 7 or 8. It will skim the sky below the Big Dipper. Best times to see it will be on dark moonless nights at the beginning of the month and again from May 17 to early June.
May 23, 24 – Possible meteor storm. On the nights of May 23 and 24 Earth will possibly pass through the dust trail left by Comet 209P/LINEAR in its past orbits. If this happens we might see a brief but intense burst of meteor activity. This potential new shower is so new that astronomers are not too sure what to expect. Predictions run from less than 100 meteors per hour up to unlikely, but possible, meteor storm as high as 1000 per hour. The meteor shower's radiant is near Polaris. It favors observers in Canada and continental US. Nothing is certain at this time, but many mathematical models are predicting that this could be the most intense meteor shower in more than a decade.
May 28 – New moon – 18:40 UTC. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
May 29 Comet 209P/LINEAR. The comet will make a close pass by Earth on May 29 at .0554 AU (~8.3 million km / 5 million miles).
Video courtesy of NASA / JPL
Tonight's sky May 2014. Video courtesy of Hubble Space Telescope
Featured image: Solar System Scope / NASA / The Watchers
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