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Look Up! A Stargazer’s Guide to May 2017

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Look Up! A Stargazer’s Guide to May 2017

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 2 — First Quarter Moon, 10:47 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.

May 6 — Get outside to view the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower, which peaks on this date. 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!

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May 7 — Right after sunset, look to the southeast to see the waxing gibbous Moon pair up with Jupiter. It will be bright and spectacular! Then as darkness falls, look for the star Spica to come out below them both. On the 8th, the Moon will be directly to the left of Spica, with Jupiter above them to the right.

May 7 – Observers with binoculars will be able to locate Mars to the upper right of the brighter orange-hued star, Aldebaran, the two objects being 6° apart this evening. But Mars is still an easy naked-eye object at dusk — look for it in the west-northwest.

May 10 — Full Moon, 5:42 p.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.

May 12 — The waning gibbous Moon is at apogee, its farthest point from Earth. (An easy way to remember: Apogee = Away)

May 13 — Look to the southeast in the late evening to see the nearly-full waning gibbous Moon and the planet Saturn paired up on the horizon. See if you can also spot the star Antares to their right. You can also spot this same trio in the western sky before dawn.

May 17 — Mercury, the planet nearest to the Sun, reaches its greatest elongation of 26°, the farthest west of the Sun it gets in 2017.

May 18 — Last Quarter Moon, 8:33 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 21 — Before sunrise, look to the eastern horizon to see the waning crescent moon with Venus right above it. The planet Mercury is also up before dawn now, hugging the horizon, but it’s harder to see. Grab your binoculars — you won’t want to miss it!

May 23— This week, the International Space Station will be making a number of favorable passes across the United States and southern Canada and can be viewed several times during the course of a single night.  For a complete schedule of visible passes over your hometown, click here.

May 25 — New Moon, 3:44 p.m. In this phase, the Moon is not illuminated by direct sunlight and is completely invisible to the naked eye. The Moon is also at perigee, its closest point to Earth for the month. This means the closest supermoon of 2017 is a New Moon, and won’t be visible to the naked eye!

May 26 – Look low to the western horizon after sunset to spot the tiny sliver of a waxing crescent Moon paired with Mars (above it, to the right). You may need binoculars to get a good look, but hurry! Both objects will disappear beneath the horizon before it gets dark.

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