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Eta Aquarid meteor shower, red giant star Antares and May planets

Watching meteor shower concept illustration

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is an annual celestial event that occurs from late April to mid-May and peaks around May 5 and 6. It results from the Earth passing through debris left by Halley’s Comet, and the meteors appear to originate in the constellation Aquarius. This shower is known for its fast and bright meteors, delivering around 40 meteors per hour under optimal conditions in the southern hemisphere. Credit: SciTechDaily.com

What are some of the highlights of sky watching in May 2024? Mars and Saturn battle with the Moon, Mercury makes a brief appearance in the morning, East Coasters can see the red giant star Antares emerge from behind the Moon, and the Eta Aquarid meteors peak on May 6.

What to look for:

Morning meteors and planets in May

See Mars, Saturn and Mercury in the May morning sky. Antares slips behind the Moon for US East Coast skywatchers, and the eta Aquarid meteors will peak on May 6.

Video transcript:

What’s in store for May? The Moon meets Saturn twice this month, Scorpio’s “heart” disappears briefly, and meteors appear in the morning, courtesy of Halley’s Comet.

On May 3, about an hour before sunrise, you’ll see the crescent Moon rising with Saturn in the morning twilight. The pair is followed by the red planet, Mars, which appears about 45 minutes after Saturn. They form a good alignment in the east for early risers to enjoy. Then the next morning, the Moon shows a thinner crescent and has moved between Saturn and Mars. The two planets continue to widen their separation following a close conjunction in early April, where they appeared very close in the sky.

Sky Chart Mars Saturn Moon May 2024

Sky map showing the Moon appearing very close to Saturn in the morning sky on May 31. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

And if you have a clear view of the horizon, you might be able to catch a glimpse of Mercury rising an hour before the Sun. It’s quite bright, but it’s also low in the sky and competing with the twilight of dawn, so it’s a good challenge. Those in the southern hemisphere will have an easier time spotting Mercury as it rises a little higher in the sky for you.

On May 23, the full Moon will appear quite close to the bright red star Antares in Scorpio as the pair rises. But those on the US East Coast (south of Delaware and across the entire state of Florida) will watch the Moon pass in front of Antares, an event called occultation. For a couple of hours, as the pair rises into the night sky, the Moon will move slightly in its orbit, first obscuring and then revealing Antares. And finally, on May 31, the planet Saturn rises in the early hours of the morning with the crescent Moon in tow. If you get up early on the last day of May, you will find the pair to the southeast. They will be close enough to appear in the same field of view if viewed with binoculars.

Radiant Aquarid Meteor Shower

Sky map showing the radiant or apparent point of origin of the eta Aquarid meteor shower 2 hours before sunrise on May 6. While all meteors appear to radiate from this region, meteors can appear anywhere in the sky. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

meteor showers

May sees one of the two annual meteor showers attributed to Halley’s Comet. Eta Aquarid meteors are seen each year in May, while Orionid meteors fly across our skies in October. This situation occurs because the Earth crosses the orbit of Halley’s Comet twice a year, in May and October. Along Halley’s path is a stream of meteorites: many small grains of rock and dust ejected by the comet, which hit our atmosphere and burn up as meteors.

The shower peaks during the night of May 5 and into the morning of the 6th. However, you can see meteors from this shower throughout the week centered on the peak night. The place in the sky where meteors seem to originate, the radiant, is in the constellation Aquarius, so you’ll have a chance to see meteors whenever the radiant is above the horizon, and there will be more meteors the higher that radiant rises. spot. heaven. This time of year, Aquarius rises after midnight, so the time to observe this shower is a few hours before dawn.

This is a big shower for observers in the southern hemisphere. The radiant rises considerably higher in the sky before morning twilight, because in May, which is autumn there, the nights are longer. Those in optimal dark sky conditions can see 40 meteors per hour. For observers in the northern hemisphere, it’s less than half that amount: more like 10 to 20 meteors per hour.

However, it is still an above-average rainfall, especially since this year’s peak occurs near the new moon, making the sky darker. And with the warmer temperatures that come with spring north of the equator, it can be a shower worth getting out and enjoying.

As always, to see the most meteors, find a dark, safe place, away from bright lights, and give your eyes a few minutes to adjust to the darkness.

Lie down with your feet pointing roughly east and look up. Bring a hot drink and a friend or two, and turn an early morning into a “meteor morning” as you search the sky for eta Aquarid meteors.

Here are the phases of the Moon for May.

Moon Phases May 2024

Sky map showing the Moon with Saturn and Mars before sunrise on May 3. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech