Star Trak: May 2017

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Jupiter will rule the evening sky all month, coming into view 35 degrees above the southeastern horizon an hour after sunset May 1 and not setting 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 11 p.m. at the beginning of May and two hours earlier by month's end.

Saturn will rise when Jupiter is highest in the south. 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. Titan will be due north of the planet May 7 and 23 and due south May 15 and 31. Visit NASA's website for the latest news and images from the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn.

As evening twilight fades in May, Mars will appear low in the west-northwest. After this month, the Red Planet will be hidden in the solar glare for most of the summer. Mars will pass about 6 degrees north (upper right) of the bright orange star Aldebaran between May 5 and 7.

Brilliant white Venus will rise about two hours before the sun in May at its greatest morning brightness for the year.

Mercury will be out of sight in the glare of sunrise all month.

Meteor shower

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 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 just past first quarter that night, and observers will have only a brief window of darkness after the moon sets and before morning twilight begins. Those watching in the Northern Hemisphere may see up to 20 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.

Moon phases

The moon will be at first quarter on May 2, full on May 10, at third quarter on May 18 and new on May 25.

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Hal Kibbey

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Email: hkibbey@indiana.edu

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