Read our May sky notes to find out what’s in the night sky this month!
These constellations are well placed this month, but many more can be seen. Check the star map for more.
Leo can be found in the south west. Look for the ‘Sickle’ – an asterism in the shape of a backwards question mark.
Virgo can be found in the south. Follow the curve of the Plough’s handle past Arcturus to locate it.
Cygnus is fully visible once more in the north east. Look for the distinctive ‘Northern Cross’.
Mercury will only be visible in the north west immediately after sunset mid-month onwards. It will be just above the horizon, so beware of the Sun! As the month progresses, it sets later, appearing in the sky for longer after sunset, so the best time to observe it will be at the end of the month. From the 11th May to the 19th June, Mercury will appear at dichotomy (half-phase) in the evening sky, best observed around the 29th. It will reach it’s highest point in the sky on the 31st.
Venus is visible in the north western evening sky after sunset, setting about 3 hours after the Sun at the beginning of the month, gradually setting sooner until it is no longer visible at the end of the month. Venus is so bright in the sky, it can cast a shadow with no interference from the Moon or light pollution.
Mars can be seen in the early morning sky, rising a couple of hours before the Sun in the south east. Mars will be in conjunction with the Moon on the 15th, and in conjunction with Ceres on the 31st. The latter will require a telescope.
Jupiter is visible after 2am at the beginning of the month, rising earlier until it can be seen after midnight by the end of the month. The best time for observing will be before sunrise, when it is highest in the sky. On the 12th, Jupiter will be in conjunction with the Moon, and with a decent telescope, Pluto can be seen on close approach too. There is also a close approach of Jupiter and Saturn on the 18th.
Saturn sticks very close to Jupiter this month, appearing to trail behind it as it moves across the sky. Saturn is much fainter than Jupiter so harder to spot. Saturn will be in conjuntion with the Moon on the 12th and at close approach with Jupiter on the 18th.
Uranus is too close to the Sun to be seen this month.
Neptune is too faint to be seen with the naked eye, but with binoculars or a telescope it appears in the eastern morning sky, rising earlier as the month goes on.
The Eta Aquarids reach their peak on the night of the 5th. With a maximum of 40 meteors per hour, these are only visible in the morning sky, and best observed just before dawn. However, the radiant (origin point) of the meteors will appear in the constellation of Aquarius, which will be relavtively low in the sky. Therefore, the actual rate will be roughly 12 meteors per hour.
The Eta Lyrids reach their peak on the night of the 8th. With a maximum of 3 meteors per hour, these are visible all through the night. Peak activity is reached at 11:00 BST, so best displays will be just before dawn or just after dusk on the 8th. The radiant (origin point) of the meteors will appear between the constellations of Lyra and Cygnus.
Full Moon: 7th
Last Quarter: 14th
New Moon: 22nd
First Quarter: 31st
The Moon will have a close encounter with the blue star Spica on the 5th.
Points of Interest
Comet C/2017 T2 PANSTARRS reaches perihelion on the 4th. It will be close enough to the celestial pole, in the constellation of Camelopardalis, to be visible all night with binoculars. However, the magnitude of comets is highly unpredictable. On the 14th, it will likely reach it’s brightest point.
Visit https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/sightings/ to find out when the International Space Station will be visible from your location.