Astronomy: May Observing Highlights
May is the perfect month for early risers. The best activity happens before sunrise this month, including a gathering of four planets and a meteor shower leftover from Halley’s Comet.
The three inner planets, Mercury, Venus, and Mars, plus the largest planet, Jupiter, will hang together in the morning sky in the east for all of May. The planets will bunch together in a variety of configurations, with some of the planets coming less than a degree from each other.
Over the course of the month, Venus will shine the brightest at magnitude -3.9, Jupiter second brightest at magnitude -2.1, Mercury will be third brightest as it fluctuates from crescent shape and magnitude 0.9 to gibbous and -0.3, and Mars will be the dimmest at magnitude 1.2.
On May 1, Jupiter and Mars are less than a half degree apart in the east before sunrise as Mercury and Venus lie above them. Also note the crescent moon near the grouping. The planets will shift positions a bit over the coming week as Mercury and Venus get closer together until their tightest pairing on May 8 at 1.4 degrees apart. May 11 and May 21 are the dates of compact trios between Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury and Mars, Venus, and Mercury, respectively. On May 23 you can spot Venus and Mars less than a degree apart. These close pairings are great opportunities to study the differences between the planets through a telescope.
Early mornings in the first week of May are also perfect for spotting Eta Aquarid meteors. The peak of activity, with up to 45 meteors an hour, occurs on the morning of May 6. Look east-southeast for flashes of light that can be traced back toward the star Eta in the constellation Aquarius.
Read more about the Night Sky for May.
-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.