The Night Sky This Month: May 2022

There’s a wealth of astronomical occurrences to delight in May. Look out for the Eta Aquarids, a Halley’s Comet associated meteor shower, producing around 30 meteors per hour during its peak on the nights of May 6th/7th. There will also be a close conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, which will appear just one-half degree separated in the eastern night sky before sunrise.

Read on to find out about these and other treats for stargazers in the May night sky.

The Moon Phases in May 2022

First Quarter
Full Moon
Last Quarter
New Moon
May 8th May 16th May 22nd May 30th

A total lunar eclipse will occur on May 16, when the whole of the Moon will pass through the shadow cast by Earth. This eclipse will be visible by observers in all of North America, Greenland, and throughout the northern Atlantic Ocean region. Observers in western Europe and West Africa will only be able to observe a partial eclipse, though.

 The Planets in May 2022

Planetary viewing remains poor for observers in the northern hemisphere in May, and particularly so for observers that are located above about latitude 350N. As a practical matter, most, if not all of the planets will be very low on the horizon for observers located above latitude 450N, and no planets will be visible for observers north of London in the UK, which is at latitude 51.50N.

As a result, all details for the visible planets that follows will apply to observers that are located around latitude 25.7617°N, which is where the city of Miami is located in the USA.

Mercury is now visible as an early evening object, having recently been at its point of greatest eastern elongation from the Sun. As seen from Miami in the USA, the little planet will become visible in the west from about 20:20 (EDT) at an elevation of 12 degrees, but by month’s end the planet becomes lost in the Sun’s glare as it falls back towards the Sun.

Venus recently passed its point of greatest western elongation from the Sun, and as seen from Miami, the planet becomes visible in the early morning sky from about 04:38 (EDT), which is just more than two hours before dawn. Venus will attain an elevation of around 22 degrees above the 23 degrees above the eastern horizon when dawn occurs just after 06:00 (EDT) during the last days of May.

Mars is just now emerging from behind the Sun, and as seen from Miami, the Red planet will become visible in the early morning sky at about 03:52 (EDT). Mars will reach an altitude of about 28 degrees above the south-eastern horizon when dawn occurs just after 06:00 (EDT). Note, though, that by month’s end, Mars will reach an altitude of about 37 degrees above the horizon at dawn.

Jupiter is also emerging from behind the Sun, and will therefore become visible in the east about 2 hours and four minutes before dawn, which occurs at about 06:27 (EDT) at the start of the month. However, the King of the planets will rise to an elevation of about 38 degrees above the south-eastern horizon just before dawn during the last few days of May.

Saturn, like Mars and Jupiter, will also emerge from behind the Sun, and as seen from Miami, the planet will become visible in the south-east at around 02:55 (EDT). Saturn’s elevation will increase from 37 degrees to about 48 degrees above the southern horizon just before dawn during the last days of the month.

Meteor Showers in May 2022

The Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower is expected to peak on the night of May 6th / 7th this year. Although this shower is best observed from the Southern Hemisphere, observers at low northern latitudes can expect to see up to about 30 meteors per hour during the peak, since the waxing crescent moon will set before the peak is expected to occur.

While the radiant of this shower is in the constellation Aquarius, meteors that are associated with this shower can appear from any point in the sky.

Deep Sky Objects to Look for in May 2022

Although planetary viewing from the UK is particularly poor from the UK and will remain poor for the immediate future, observers at far-northern latitudes might find it worth their while to observe some of the constellations that are particularly well placed for observation, instead. One such constellation is Hercules, one of the largest and most conspicuous constellations in the northern sky, and one that contains a large number of easy targets for modest amateur observing equipment. Below are some details of such objects-

The Great Globular Cluster – Messier 13 (M13, NGC 6205)

Also known as M13, the Great Globular Cluster is among the biggest and most massive of the Milky Way’s 250 or so known globular clusters. Located about 22,000 light-years away, the cluster’s roughly 300,000 member stars stretch across an area of just more than 145 light-years, which gives the cluster an apparent diameter of 20 minutes of arc as seen from Earth.

Although this magnitude 5.8 cluster is easy to spot in small telescopes and even large binoculars, it is exceedingly difficult to spot without optical aid.

Messier 92 (M92, NGC 6341)

M92 is the only other Messier object in Hercules, but despite that, M92 is probably among the finest observing targets for small to medium telescopes in the entire northern night sky. This magnitude 6.3 globular cluster is located about 26,700 light-years and contains roughly 330,000 extremely metal-poor stars, but its proximity to M13 (another globular cluster) means it is often misidentified or overlooked by some observers.

In scientific terms, M92’s principal claim to fame is that with an estimated age of 14.2 billion years, it is almost as old as the Universe itself.

Hercules Cluster (Abell 2151)

Located about 500 million light-years away, the Hercules cluster (of galaxies) contains roughly 200 member galaxies, most of which are spiral galaxies that are easy to spot with medium-sized telescopes. Note that this cluster of galaxies is a somewhat outlying member of the larger Hercules Super Cluster (SCI 160) of galaxies.

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