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Monday, May 1, 2017

Look At The Sky: May

The Planets for MAY:

Mercury - Mercury reaches its "greatest eastern elongation" (see Calendar below) on the first of April and is located about as high in western skies over the horizon as you will see it, yet still embedded in strong twilight.  If you are able to pick it up in a telescope, it will appear to be a thin "crescent" phase since it is only 28% illuminated as we see it from Earth - in PISCES

Venus - our brightest planet will rise about an hour ahead of strong twilight at mid-month, but will continue moving slowly westward in the sky each morning and will attain a higher altitude against the eastern horizon as our "morning star" by month's end.  Telescopically this is an excellent time to look at Venus, as it presents a large "crescent phase, appearing much like a crescent moon even in the smallest telescope. - in PISCES.

Mars - Mars is very low in west and now distant....not a good telescopic object, and sets about 10 p.m. local time; although its reddish color and brightness (mag. 1.5) are obvious and allow for easy location of this red planet, it is not worth observing this month, with an angular diameter of less than 4" arc and at a great distance from Earth.  - in TAURUS

Jupiter - Now overhead around midnight and in the sky all night long, Jupiter rises in the east shortly before sunset, is nearly overhead at midnight and sets in the west about the time morning dawn breaks.  This is a very favorable time to view Jupiter since it is brightest and closest to Earth during March, April and May; Jupiter is only one month past opposition, so it is rising shortly before dark and will be in the sky nearly all night for viewing.   - in VIRGO

Saturn - The magnificent ringed planet will be high overhead for northern latitudes at about 3:30 a.m. local time and will be dominant as mighty Jupiter is setting in the west at this time.  This is a wonderful month to view the ring system.  On the 14th look for Saturn just to the right (west of) the nearly full moon.  Distant Pluto is a bit east of these two as well. - in SAGITTARIUS

Uranus - distant planet Uranus is rising very shortly before the sun at mid-month, being just barely in dark sky.  Look for Uranus VERY close to elusive little Mercury on the 15th at about dawn in eastern skies; bright VENUS will be higher that both of them.  Uranus will rise a bit early each morning as we approach summer.  - in PISCES

Neptune - Our most distant world other than of Pluto, is now rising about an hour before twilight in the east; at magnitude 7.8, it is visible in small telescopes as a star-like object with little or no detail visible - in AQUARIUS

Pluto - at magnitude 14.2, our most distant planet ( is a planet) rises about midnight and is south of overhead by dawn, just east of the "teapot" in Sagittarius and east of brilliant yellow Saturn to its west.  - in SAGITTARIUS

Meteor Showers for May 2017

For May, there are three meteor showers, some of which provide for wonderful spring sky shows, provided that the light of the moon does not interfere.  However, as with all months and times during the year, observers should always be aware that new sporadic meteor showers can occur at anytime from seemingly unknown sources and radiants.  MAY is always an excellent time to go outside and view the heavens and the interloping meteors among them; typically in most locations, whether spring in the northern hemisphere or fall in the southern, the skies are crisp and clear. Most of May’s meteor showers occur early in the month.  NOTE that maximum meteor counts can ONLY be seen with the absence of the MOON in the sky....consult the daily calendar below for moon phases during May.

May 1 – PHI BOOTID METEORS - A really long term meteor shower that actually begins on or about April 16 and persists until May 12, emanating from the constellation of Bootes AND Hercules (the radiant has indeed moved in recent years!), high in the eastern sky at dark, and remain so for most of the night for northern latitudes.  The best time to observe the most of these meteors is always about 2 a.m. local time. About 6 meteors can be seen per hour, most medium bright, relative fast and pretty much overhead, all traced back to northwestern Hercules.

May 3 – ALPHA SCORPIID METEORS - The peak of this shower takes place during the week of this year’s new moon, so the faintest members of this meteor shower will be seen for several nights before and after the actual peak date.  The minor meteor shower is another long duration one, beginning in early April on the Libra-Scorpius border and slowly moving into the constellation of Ophiuchus by May 9!  The motion of this radiant is of much interest to astronomers and your detection of meteors from night to night as to where they appear to originate is very important; the radiant will rise in the far southeastern sky about 9 p.m. local time and be overhead at 1 p.m. the following morning.

May 5-6 – ETA AQUARID METEORS - Normally one of the finest meteor showers of each year, the Eta Aquarid meteors were recorded as early as 401 A.D. by the ancient Chinese we know them to be part of TWO debris clouds left in the wake of famous HALLEY’s COMET through which the earth passes each year.  Meteors can be seen from this shower all the time from April 21 through May 12, but the peak is fairly steep and occurs each year on May 4.....look for brilliant and spectacularly exciting fireballs from May 9 through 11.   The radiant for this meteor shower is located very near the star asterism known as “The Water Jar” in Aquarius, but moves a bit northeast each day through the long period the meteoric cloud persists around the earth.  Note that this meteor shower for northern latitudes is very low in southern skies...most meteors should be seen coming from the EAST horizon (not overhead like most showers!) about 2 a.m......but by 7 a.m., note that the most frequent meteors appear to originate about halfway from that point to overhead.  On most dates with not-so-dark skies up to 10 Eta Aquarids per hour might be expected, most bright and leaving glowing “fireball” trails behind them.   Thus, most years are excellent in hopes of seeing these fine meteors, and the very faint as well as the many bright fireballs may be seen.

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