BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Jupiter will rule the sky from dusk to dawn all month. It will reach opposition (opposite the sun in our sky) on May 8 when it will be at greatest visibility. On May 1 it will rise in the east around 8:30 p.m. local daylight time and not set until the start of morning twilight. It will reach its highest point in the south – the best time to view it with a telescope – around midnight at the beginning of the month and two hours earlier by month’s end.
Saturn will rise shortly after midnight on May 1 and about two hours earlier on May 31. It will be at its highest in the south around 5 a.m. early in the month and about 3 a.m. at month’s end. Glowing bright yellow in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer, it will far outshine the constellation’s stars. Saturn’s rings will be tilted 26 degrees to our line of sight during May. Its largest moon, Titan, will be visible in any telescope.
Mars will rapidly increase in both brightness and size during May. For viewers at mid-northern latitudes, the Red Planet will rise above the east-southeastern horizon around 1:30 a.m. on May 1, when Jupiter will be highest in the south. By month’s end, Mars will rise shortly after midnight. The best viewing hours with a telescope will be shortly before the start of morning twilight, when Mars will be about 25 degrees high in the south-southeast.
Venus will be a beautiful sight in the western sky after sunset in May, with a background of bright stars. On May 1, the planet will be in the constellation Taurus the Bull, about 5 degrees north of the Hyades star cluster and 10 degrees east of the Pleiades. Brilliant white Venus will be almost 100 times brighter than Aldebaran, the bright orange star in Taurus. Venus will cross into the constellation Gemini the Twins on May 19, setting more than two and a half hours after the sun by the end of the month.
Mercury will be out of sight in the glare of the sun all month.
This month, Earth will encounter a stream of dust left behind in space by Comet Halley, causing the Eta Aquarid meteor shower that will peak before dawn on May 6. The shower will be active for a few days before and after the peak as well. The meteors will appear to come from a point called the radiant in the constellation Aquarius, which will rise in the east about two hours before the start of morning twilight. The higher this point is above the horizon, the more meteors will be visible.
The moon will be almost at third quarter that night, and its bright light will wash out the fainter meteors. Find a dark place to watch, where a tree or building blocks the direct light of the moon. Observers in the Northern Hemisphere may see up to 10 meteors per hour under good viewing conditions, because Aquarius will be close to the eastern horizon. Those watching in the Southern Hemisphere will see Aquarius much higher in the sky, and there may be twice as many meteors per hour at the peak.
The moon will be at third quarter on May 8, new on May 15, at first quarter on May 22 and full on May 29.