The May 2018 Night Sky

Welcome to the May night sky. Over in the west, shortly after sunset, the brilliant planet Venus can still be seen high in the rapidly darkening sky. This planet stays at approximately the same altitude in the sky throughout the month of May. This is because Venus is moving westward at the same rate as the Sun and, on May 17, the crescent Moon, also moving westward, will be close to the planet.

On May 9, the gas giant planet Jupiter is at opposition in the constellation of Libra and this means that it would be at its brightest and it will be seen rising in the southeast at sunset. When at opposition, it will be in the south at local midnight and will set in the southwest at daybreak.

Through a small telescope, the cloud belts and four major moons of Jupiter can be easily seen. When Jupiter is high in the south, over in the southeast the ringed planet Saturn can be seen rising in the constellation of Sagittarius. Soon after Saturn rises, the red planet Mars will also rise, and it will be noticeably brighter than last month as it is getting closer to the Earth for its opposition later this year.

The first week in May has the normally reliable Eta Aquarid meteor shower that peaks on the night of May 5. This meteor shower is dust left over from the tail of Halley’s comet. This shower has its origin point in the constellation of Aquarius and the meteors will be seen coming from rather low in the sky in the direction west travelling east.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) was successfully launched on April 18, after a short delay. It is hoped that it will discover thousands of exoplanets in orbit around the brightest stars. It will be searching 85% of the heavens, and it is very likely to discover many Earth-like worlds. This will be very important as these are the planets we will be travelling to in the coming centuries.

This satellite is expected to discover hundreds of Earth-like worlds relatively close to us and, if this is the case, it will statistically prove that there are tens of thousands of potentially habitable worlds within the range of our future star ships.
The Moon is last quarter on May 8, new on the 15th, first quarter on the 22th and full on May 29.

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