Published:  12:39 AM, 12 May 2019

What to see in the night sky in May

What to see in the night sky in May

Meteor showers, the Flower Moon and more reasons to look up. That giant sigh you just heard? The collective relief of the Northern Hemisphere that spring with all its beauty, sounds and smells is finally here. It's also the perfect time for stargazers to throw on little more than a sweatshirt and enjoy warmer evenings of looking up into the heavens. While May isn't as heavy with celestial events as other months, there are a few highlights worth circling. Below are some to keep in mind as we move ever-closer to the summer season. Wishing you clear evenings!

Enjoy dark skies with the new moon (May 4)

The new moon will arrive on May 15, bringing with it dark skies perfect for picking out galaxy clusters like Omega Centarui (thought to contain some 10 million stars) or the Virgo Cluster (estimated to contain as many as 2,000 galaxies).

Eta Aquarid meteor shower (May 5)

Peaking at dawn on May 5 through the early morning hours of May 6, the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower is one of the more reliable shooting star events of the year. Observers near the equator through the Southern Hemisphere will have the best views, with the meteors appearing to radiate from the star Eta Aquarii in the constellation Aquarius. A waning new moon will keep things dark, allowing even the faintest Aquarids to put on a spectacular show of as many as 30 shooting stars per hour.

The neat thing about the Aquarid shower is that it's made up of icy debris left over from visits by Halley's Comet. Because the current orbit of Halley doesn't close pass enough by Earth to produce meteor showers, the Aquarids are remnants leftover from a closer orbit from hundreds of years ago.

Then-Scorpiid meteor shower peaks (May 14-15)

One of the more difficult annual meteor showers to observe, the ?-Scorpiid's radiate from low on the horizon in the southeast. The shower is believed cause by 2004 BZ74, a large asteroid that sheds debris as its orbit carries it from outside Jupiter to around the sun.

While this shower is only associated with as many as three to five shooting stars each hour, some have been reported to exhibit blazing trails lasting over a minute. The prize behind viewing this celestial event isn't so much quantity, but quality of what you may see light up the night sky.

The Flower Moon (May 18)

Like all the other awesome monthly full moon nicknames we've come to know recently (Frost Moon, Wolf Moon, Worm Moon), April's Flower Moon is reflective of what's happening on the ground in the Northern Hemisphere. This month's full moon was also known by Native Americans as the Mother's Moon, the Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon. Whatever you want to call it, this month's full moon will reach its peak on the morning of May 29 at 5:11 p.m. ET.

A bashful Milky Way (All month)

For nearly all of May, those in the Northern Hemisphere seeking out the luminous star-dusted band of the Milky Way after sunset won't find it. The galactic disk all month is located on the plane of the horizon, effectively hiding it from sight. It's not until midnight, as the night sky rotates from east to west, that this celestial wonder will slowly start to rise. By August, the best month to view the Milky Way, this galactic plane will be overhead and stretching full across the sky.

Michael has been a featured contributor to the Mother Nature Network, with a focus on the arts and sciences, since 2009.

The article appeared in Mother Nature
Network (MNN).

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