Welcome to the May night sky. Now that the warmer nights have arrived in the northern hemisphere, it’s not so uncomfortable to stay up late to see the ringed-planet Saturn as it is rising now in the south east. By midnight it should be high enough for a small telescope, or even a strong pair of binoculars, to see the ring system. This year the rings are tilted toward us at their maximum extent so making them easier to see.
This is the time of year when we start to see the summer Milky-way, with the centre part of our galaxy rising in the south east around midnight local time. The constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpius are the two principle ones in this area of sky. Saturn is in the upper part of Sagittarius and moves into Ophiuchus later on in the month.
Still in orbit around Saturn, the NASA Cassini probe continues to make exciting discoveries. Even though it is coming to the end of its mission, it recently discovered hydrogen gas coming from cracks in the ice surface of Enceladus, one of Saturn’s many moons. This is very significant as it indicates that there are hydrothermal vents at the bottom of a subsurface ocean and this is an ideal location for microbes to thrive.
During May, there is an opportunity to spot a small comet called C/2015 V2 (Johnson). This comet should be visible in any small binoculars and it is in the constellation of Bootes (The Herdsman). Towards the end of the month the comet should be close to the bright star Arcturus.
This comet also passes by a star called Xi Bootis around mid-month – the closest star to Earth in the constellation of Bootes. It is also a double star with its components being very similar to the Sun and this means it may have Earth-like planets in orbit around one or both its stars. This star system is 22 light years away and this makes it one of our near neighbours in the Milky-way Galaxy.
On the nights of May 4, 5 and 6 we have the peak of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. This normally reliable shower often has many bright fireball-type meteors – also this shower is associated with the famous comet Halley.
The Moon is first quarter on the 3rd, full on the 11th, last quarter on the 19th and new on May 25.
By Clive Jackson
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Clive Jackson is the Director of the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.
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To see the May Sky Map click on the pdf link below