What to look for in the May night sky


May brings us longer, warmer days as the Sun marches north toward June’s summer solstice.

By the end of the month we’ll have 15 hours and 29 minutes of daylight.

Sunset grows increasingly late, approaching 9 p.m. by the end of the month.

But the warmer weather yields more comfortable views of the night sky, so check it out when you can!

At the start of the month, the 9 p.m. evening sky will feature a nice first-quarter Moon in the west.

Winter constellations Orion and Taurus are sinking below the horizon. Taurus is accompanied by now-faint Mars.

In the southeast, the bright beacon of Jupiter shines above Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. Leo the Lion rides high in the south.

The Big Dipper, in Ursa Major, is upside-down, high in the northern sky. Bright Vega is rising in the northeast.

The Moon will pass by the bright star Regulus on May 3, Jupiter on May 7, Spica on May 8. Full Moon will come on May 10, with the new Moon on May 25.

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower will be on the evenings of May 6 and 7. Alas, only bright meteors will be visible due to the bright, almost-full Moon.

Jupiter will shine bright all month in May. It will appear to be mostly stationary, located above Spica. Check it out with binoculars and see if you can make out its 4 large moons, tiny dots next to the planet. They’ll appear to be in a line and all about the same brightness.

Saturn will be prominent in the May morning sky, and will be peeking above the horizon late in the evening by the end of the month. The ringed planet will be at its closest approach to us on June 15 — more about Saturn next month!

One of the spring constellations rising in the east is Boötes, the herder (pronounced Boe-OH-teez). Boötes is easy to find if you can identify the Big Dipper. The dipper’s handle points toward Boötes, particularly the herder’s bright star Arcturus.

Arcturus will be the brightest star in the eastern sky, but not as bright as the planet Jupiter. Look for Arcturus to the left of Jupiter.

The bright star Vega, slightly dimmer than Arcturus, will be low in the northeastern evening sky.

Boötes extends above and to the left of Arcturus. To the left of Arcturus, see if you can make out a small constellation, the Northern Crown (Corona Borealis). It will appear as a cup shape of moderately bright stars, easily visible if you are away from bright lights.

Interested in August’s total solar eclipse? Join me at the White Salmon Library, Friday May 5, at 7 p.m.

I’ll talk about the eclipse and other highlights of our upcoming summer skies.

And if skies are clear that night, I’ll set up a telescope afterwards to view the Moon and Jupiter.

Hope to see you there!

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