The Night Sky This Month – May 2019
April showers bring, well, May snow flurries, at least in this part of the world. But when the clouds break and the snow melts, May will also bring a number of memorable celestial sights and events. There’s the Eta Aquariid meteor shower, the sister shower of October’s better-known Orionids when bits and pieces of Halley’s Comet blaze their way through the upper atmosphere. All five of the brightest planets are visible this month, some with a little effort. Jupiter and Saturn, in particular, are on their way to their yearly apparitions and tempt telescopic observers from midnight til dawn. And if you’re up late, look to the southeast to get a glimpse of the thickest and brightest part of the Milky Way towards the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius. Here’s what to see in the night sky this month…
2 May 2019. Rise early, grab a pair of binoculars, and try to spot the bright planet Venus and a wafer-thin crescent Moon low over the eastern horizon before sunrise. Southern-hemisphere observers will see the pair slightly higher above the horizon than northern observers. Venus, while still brilliant, shines at magnitude -3.8, about as faint as it ever gets. In a telescope, the planet presents a small 11”-wide disk that’s more than 90% illuminated.
4 May. New Moon, 22:46 UT. May the 4th be with you!
5-6 May. The Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaks in the early-morning hours of May 6. This is one of the finest meteor showers for observers in the southern-hemisphere and southern latitudes of the northern hemisphere. The event occurs as the Earth passes through the stream of debris of Comet 1/P Halley (ie. Halley’s Comet). Look anywhere in the sky to see these fleeting meteors that trace their paths back to a point near the Circlet of Pisces, a little group of stars that emerges above the eastern horizon in the wee hours in early May. The Moon is out of the way this year, so even the fainter meteors will be visible.
5-8 May. The waxing crescent Moon, moving eastward each day, meets the constellation Taurus as it moves westward on its way to setting for the year. On the 6th, the Moon is close to the bright orange star Aldebaran. On the 7th, it’s just 0.5o from the 3rd-magnitude star Zeta Tauri. On the 8th, the crescent Moon is just 3o (about two finger widths) south of Mars. Mars itself continues to shrink and grow fainter on its way to conjunction with the Sun later this year.
12 May. First Quarter Moon, 01:12 UT
18 May. Full Moon, 21:11 UT
18 May. If you’re up early, or if you’re up late after a long night of stargazing (or other nocturnal activities), look for Venus low over the eastern horizon about an hour before sunrise. It’s the brightest thing by far in that part of the sky. If you have a telescope, look for the planet Uranus, far fainter at 6th magnitude, which today is just 1.4o north of Venus.
19-20 May. Look for the Moon, just past full, and the bright star Antares and the far brighter planet Jupiter in the southeastern sky around midnight (and later). Jupiter is a dazzling sight for the next few months. The planet brightens in May to magnitude -2.6, far brighter than any star. The planet rises about three hours after sunset on May 1, but less than an hour after sunset by the end of the month. Jupiter reaches opposition, rising as the Sun sets, and makes its closest approach to Earth on June 10. Learn more about Jupiter and how to see it with our annual Jupiter Observing Guide.
23 May. Look for the waning gibbous Moon about three finger-widths east of the planet Saturn. The ringed planet is located far south on the ecliptic this year in the constellation Sagittarius, and its upcoming apparition favors southern hemisphere observers. But northerners can still see detail on the planet over the next few months on nights of steady seeing. Saturn brightens to magnitude +0.3 this month. It rises around midnight and reaches a respectably high altitude for observing before dawn. The rings span about 40” and are tilted nicely at an angle of nearly 24o. If you’re up, have a look with your telescope. If not, the view will get better, and at an earlier hour, over the next few months.
26 May. Last Quarter Moon, 16:34 UT
28 May. The asteroid (and dwarf planet) 1 Ceres reaches opposition, rising in the east as the Sun sets in the west. This airless, spheroidal world reaches 7th magnitude, easily accessible in binoculars or any telescope. The map above shows you the location of Ceres today.