Three inner planets light up the western evening sky in May, while Jupiter and Saturn gain some prominence in the eastern sky before dawn. Unfortunately we sky-watchers in the eastern and central time zones will miss a total eclipse of the Moon. The timing is just not right for us.
The best views of this month’s total lunar eclipse will be in western North and South America, Hawaii, Australia, and eastern Asia. Eclipses of the Moon occur when the Moon is full and passes into Earth’s shadow. But on the east coast, the Moon enters Earth’s shadow at 5:44 am (4:44 am Central time), and that is also when the Full Moon is setting. Sad that we will miss the chance to see this great event.
Mars is dim now but still bright enough for us to watch it appear to move through Gemini, ending the month up near the top of the twins. Mercury reaches its best evening view for 2021; which is to say it appears farthest from the Sun and therefore higher in the western sky. From May 17th through May 28th, much brighter Venus will help us find Mercury.
On May 20th, Venus will be below and right of Mercury. The distance between them will close and on the 23rd, Mercury will be between the horns of Taurus the bull. By May 28th, the planets will be so close to each other that both can be seen within the same telescopic field of view. Mercury and Venus then will be up for an hour after sunset.
Earlier in the month, on the May 12th, Venus will be just above the thin crescent Moon right after sunset. The next night, the Moon will be close to Mercury, and since they do not set until an hour after Venus, the darker sky will make them easier to see.
By mid-May Saturn will be high enough above the eastern horizon for viewing 1 to 2 hours before early morning dawn. Later into June and July it will rise before midnight giving us more time to see it. Already it makes a great sight through telescopes.
Jupiter, much brighter than Saturn, will be found below the ringed planet, and will provide sky-watchers with telescopes, 90 minutes of time before dawn to see its cloud belts by the end of May. The Moon may be seen just below Jupiter in the early morning eastern sky on May 4th; and it will be just below Saturn on May 30th.
The Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaks in the early morning hours of May 6th. Look east around 4 am, just left of where Saturn and Jupiter are found, and we may be rewarded with many very fast moving meteors; many with persistent trains caused by the debris left by Comet 1P/Halley, the orbit of which Earth crosses twice each year; in May and again in October.
May’s Full Moon is May 26th; the night of the eclipse.