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Look Up! A Stargazer’s Guide to May 2018

Look Up! A Stargazer’s Guide to May 2018

There’s a lot going on in the sky during the month of May, including a meteor shower, a full Moon, and some spectacular celestial pairings!

All times Eastern Daylight and based on Northern Hemisphere viewing:

May 5—About half past midnight, look low toward the east-southeast horizon for the waning gibbous Moon and poised about 5° to its upper right will be the planet Saturn. The ringed planet finally becomes visible during evening hours this month. In early May it rises a little after midnight local daylight time, but by the 31st it comes up just as the last glow of evening twilight is fading away. Once up, however, Saturn gains altitude very slowly due to its southern declination. You’ll have to wait another 2½ hours for it to climb just 20° above the horizon if you live near 40° north latitude. Saturn rises a little faster of you live south of there, slower if you are north. By the time it is 20° up it has shifted over to the south-southeast. Even through a modest-sized telescope Saturn sits big and gaudy, tilting its rings wide open (25½°) to our view.

May 6—Look toward the east-southeast horizon, at around 1:30 a.m., to see a somewhat slimmer gibbous Moon in the company of Mars, glowing prominently about 2½° to its lower right. The red planet continues to rise after midnight through May—around 1:20 a.m. on the 1st to 12:10 a.m. on the 31st.

May 5-6—Get outside in the pre-dawn hours to view the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower, which peaks this weekend. The best viewing is between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., looking to the southeast. The Eta Aquarids get their name because their radiant lies within the constellation Aquarius, near one of the constellation’s brightest stars, Eta Aquarii. These showers come from the cosmic dust of Halley’s Comet. Look for “Earthgrazers,” which are meteors that skip along the atmosphere like stones on a pond, in slow motion. These fireballs are quite a sight to behold, even if you only see one!

May 7 —Last Quarter Moon, 10:09 p.m. At this phase, the Moon appears half full. One-half of the Moon is illuminated by direct sunlight while the illuminated part is decreasing, on its way to the New Moon phase.

May 8—Look to the southeast after dark to see Jupiter, shining at magnitude -2.5 in Libra. The king of the planets reaches its opposition to the Sun on Tuesday night, so it’s up practically all night this month. Jupiter is edging slowly westward toward from the 2½-magnitude star Alpha (α) Librae (Zubenelgenubi) nearby.

May 15—New Moon, 7:48 a.m. In this phase, the Moon is not illuminated by direct sunlight and is completely invisible to the naked eye.

May 17—Look to the west-northwest sky at dusk to see the slender crescent Moon, 9-percent illuminated, to the left of the brilliant planet Venus. Venus hangs at practically the same height, moderately low in the west-northwest during twilight all through the month of May.

May 21—First Quarter Moon, 11:49 p.m. At this phase, the Moon appears half full. One-half of the Moon is illuminated by direct sunlight while the illuminated part is increasing. Incidentally, that bright bluish star sitting just off to the lower left of the Moon is Regulus, the brightest star of Leo, the Lion.

May 27 —Soon after sunset, face south-southeast to see the nearly full Moon ascending the sky and situated well to its right will be brilliant Jupiter.

May 29—Full Flower Moon, 10:29 a.m. The visible Moon is fully illuminated by direct sunlight. Though the Moon is only technically in this phase for a few seconds, it is considered “full” for the entire day of the event, and appears full for three days. May’s full Moon is called the Full Flower Moon.

Learn about the folklore surrounding May’s full Moon in this short Farmers’ Almanac video.


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