By Mike Glazier
May, and especially the early part of the month is a time of the year when the nights are quite pleasant to spend at the telescope and when a number of objects are compatible with eyepieces. This May however is going to be sociably interesting only I think in terms of constellations, with the exception of meteors because many of the planets are morning or very early morning objects. I do know that few people are ‘fans’ of setting alarm clocks simply to see planets which have been seen many times before and without any special events being attached to them. However, it is not for me to say what any particular person may or may not wish to do, so I will cover objects which will be on view.
Mercury. Will be too close to the Sun to be observable, especially during the early to mid-part of the month.
Venus. Look for this planet LOW DOWN to the East half an hour before sunrise on May 22nd, close by you will see the Moon which on this date will be just four days away from new.
Mars. Again, this will be difficult in that you MAY just be able to ‘spot’ the planet low down to the West at magnitude 1.6 a little before sunset. Within a few days, the planet will move closer to the Sun and become lost until June.
Jupiter, the king of the planets will be visible at magnitude -2.4, – 2.3 and will continue to move retrograde in Virgo; On 7th of the month Jupiter will be nicely placed just 2.3º N of the Moon at 22.24; however if you miss this and fancy setting your alarm for around 5 a.m. on the 8th you will get another opportunity. I do have to admit that seeing our closest neighbour in space together in the sky with the largest of the planets is a pleasing sight and makes for a photo opportunity.
Saturn will be seen trailing the dawn skies before sunrise, with Antares, the ‘Alpha’ star in Scorpius. This star is often called the ‘rival of Mars’.
Whilst talking about the Moon, it is often useful to know when the Moon is at a particular phase.;
First quarter is on the 3rd, Full Moon is on the 10th, Last quarter is on the 19th and New Moon is on the 25th.
Apogee or the Moon’s furthest distance from Earth is on the 12th.
Perigee or the Moon’s closest point to us is on the 26th or the same date as New Moon.
Cassiopeia, the Queen, will be low down to the North, and to the West of that we will be losing the southern parts of Perseus and Auriga. Gemini will almost be lost below the Western horizon.
Vega, and Deneb (Lyra and Cygnus) will be clearly seen but Altair ( Aquila) is lagging behind. Hercules is high up to the East and of course this celestial group boasts the lovely M13 cluster.
Arcturus, found by following the tail of the great Bear, Ursa Major, is to the South.
The Eta Aquarids are one of two showers in the year which are associated with comet IP/Halley, the other is the Orionids which are not seen until October and which can be quite interesting given the right observing conditions.
However, the Eta Aquarids are nowhere near one of the best showers of the year because the radiant lies close to the celestial equator and close to Aquarius. The shower is a very early morning event but because of the radiant point it is also a weak event for us. Maximum will occur on the night of May 6th into 7th and the Z.H.R ( zenith hourly rate) is typically 55 per hour with some having known to have left trails.
Next month (June) we will again reach the Summer solstice. However even now it is interesting to see how far North the Sun is setting each evening and if you have noticed in previous years the furthest point at which relative to a given landmark the Sun has yet to achieve.