Night sky guide for May 2018

Night sky guide for May 2018

Eta Aquariids meteor shower, a strong shower when viewed in the southern tropics, will peak on the night of May 6 and the morning of May 7. While this shower is capable of producing 60 meteors per hour at its peak, the waning gibbous moon will block most of the fainter meteors this year. However, you should be able to catch quite a few good ones if you are patient. 

The Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky - New Moon - on May 15. 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.

The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated - Full Moon - on May 29. 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.

  • May 3 - Mercury at dichotomy, well placed for observation - 16:38 UTC. In the southern hemisphere, Mercury will be well placed for observation in the dawn sky, shining brightly at mag 0.2. Mercury's orbit lies closer to the Sun than the Earth's, meaning that it always appears close to the Sun and is very difficult to observe most of the time. It is observable only for a few days each time it reaches the greatest separation from the Sun – moments referred to as greatest elongation.

  • May 4 - Conjunction of the Moon and Saturn - 20:16 UTC. The Moon, 18 days old, and Saturn will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 1°41' to the north of Saturn. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -12.3, and Saturn at mag 0.1, both in the constellation Sagittarius. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • May 4 - Close approach of the Moon and Saturn - 20:18 UTC. The Moon and Saturn will make a close approach, passing within 1°41' of each other.

  • May 6, 7 - Eta Aquariids. The Eta Aquariids are a strong shower when viewed in the southern tropics, capable of producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. In the northern hemisphere, the rate can reach about 30 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust particles left behind by comet Halley, which has known and observed since ancient times. The shower runs annually from April 19 to May 28 and peaks this year on the night of May 6 and the morning of the May 7. The waning gibbous moon will block most of the fainter meteors this year, but you should be able to catch quite a few good ones if you are patient. These are swift meteors that produce a high percentage of persistent trains, but few fireballs. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius but can appear anywhere in the sky.

  • May 6 - Close approach of Moon and Mars - 06:50 UTC. The Moon and Mars will make a close approach, passing within 2°43' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -12.1, and Mars at mag -0.5, both in the constellation Sagittarius. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars. At around the same time, the two objects will also share the same right ascension – called a conjunction.

  • May 6 - Conjunction of the Moon and Mars - 07:26 UTC. The Moon and Mars will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 2°44' to the north of Mars. 

  • May 9 - C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS) at perihelion. Comet C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS) will make its closest approach to the Sun, at a distance of 2.60 AU.

  • May 9 - Jupiter at opposition - 00:28 UTC. The giant planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. It will be brighter than any other time of the year and will be visible all night long. This is the best time to view and photograph Jupiter and its moons. A medium-sized telescope should be able to show you some of the details in Jupiter's cloud bands. A good pair of binoculars should allow you to see Jupiter's four largest moons, appearing as bright dots on either side of the planet.

  • May 11 - Globular cluster M5 well placed for observation. The globular cluster M5 (NGC 5904) in Serpens will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of +02°04', it is visible across much of the world; it can be seen at latitudes between 72°N and 67°S. At magnitude 6.0, M5 is quite faint, and certainly not visible to the naked eye, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

  • May 11 - Conjunction of Mercury and Eris - 16:56 UTC. Mercury and 136199 Eris will share the same right ascension, with Mercury passing 9°46' to the north of 136199 Eris. Mercury will be at mag -0.1 in the constellation Pisces, and 136199 Eris at mag 18.8 in the neighboring constellation of Cetus.

  • May 12 - Conjunction of Mercury and Uranus - 20:59 UTC. Mercury and Uranus will share the same right ascension, with Mercury passing 2°23' to the south of Uranus. Mercury will be at mag -0.2 in the constellation Pisces, and Uranus at mag 5.9 in the neighboring constellation of Aries. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible through a pair of binoculars.

  • May 13 - α–Scorpiid meteor shower. The α–Scorpiid meteor shower will reach its maximum rate of activity on May 13, 2018. Some shooting stars associated with the shower are expected to be visible each night from April 20 to 19. The parent body responsible for creating the α–Scorpiid shower has been tentatively identified as 2004 BZ74. The maximum rate of meteors expected to be visible is around 5 per hour (ZHR). However, this assumes a perfectly dark sky and that the radiant of the meteor shower is directly overhead. In practice, the number of meteors you are likely to see is lower than this. All of the meteors will appear to be traveling directly outward from this point, as indicated by the white lines drawn above. The Moon will be 27 days old at the time of peak activity, presenting minimal interference. To see the most meteors, the best place to look is not directly at the radiant itself, but at any dark patch of sky which is around 30–40° away from it. It is at a distance of around this distance from the radiant that meteors will show reasonably long trails without being too spread out.

  • May 13 - Conjunction of the Moon and Mercury - 17:21 UTC.  The Moon, 27 days old, and Mercury will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 2°23' to the south of Mercury. The Moon will be at mag -9.3, and Mercury at mag -0.2, both in the constellation Pisces. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • May 15 - New Moon - 11:49 UTC. The Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. 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 17 - Conjunction of the Moon and Venus - 18:10 UTC. The Moon and Venus will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 4°49' to the south of Venus. The Moon will be at mag -9.9 in the constellation Orion, and Venus at mag -4.0 in the neighboring constellation of Taurus. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

     

  • May 27 - Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter - 17:40 UTC. The Moon, 12 days old, and Jupiter will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 3°57' to the north of Jupiter. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -12.5, and Jupiter at mag -2.5, both in the constellation Libra. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • May 27 - Close approach of the Moon and Jupiter - 19:54 UTC. The Moon and Jupiter will make a close approach, passing within 3°46' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -12.5, and Jupiter at mag -2.5, both in the constellation Libra. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars. At around the same time, the two objects will also share the same right ascension – called a conjunction.

  • May 28 - Globular cluster M4 well placed for observation. Across much of the world, the globular cluster M4 (NGC 6121) in Scorpius will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -26°31', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 43°N. At magnitude 5.9, M4 is quite faint, and certainly not visible to the naked eye, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

  • May 29 - Full Moon - 14:21 UTC. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. 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.

Video courtesy Hubble Space Telescope

Sources: In The Sky by Dominic Ford, NASA, The Watchers

Featured image credit: NASA and B. Preston (STScI and Max-Q Digital). Edit: TW

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