The May night sky

WELCOME TO the May night Sky. This is the month when the temperatures at night get a little more comfortable and hopefully the April showers are behind us!

The ringed planet Saturn, which has been clearly visible during the spring, now disappears below the western horizon during the early evening, to now be replaced by Jupiter rising at sunset in the southeastern sky.

Planet Jupiter is the largest of our solar system’s nine planets, and has a volume of 1,300 times that of the Earth. The four Moons of Jupiter, which were discovered in the first years of the 17th century by Galileo Galilei, using a small telescope with a one-inch aperture, are easily visible with any optical aid.

Overhead in the late evening is the constellation of Ursa Major, the Great Bear. This star group is unmistakable with its seven bright stars. If you follow the tail of the bear down towards the southeast, you will encounter a brilliant orange star called Arcturus, which simply means “Bear follower”.

On the nights of May 12, 13 and 14, hopefully we might get a change to see the comet, Schwassmann-Wachmann, in the constellation of Cygnus. This comet is breaking up into small fragments and might be bright enough to be seen with a pair of binoculars. It will pass quite close to the Earth, but will still be six million miles away, so no danger of a collision. It will be best seen in the early hours of the morning.

On May 4, the Moon was close to Saturn and on May 12 the Moon will be rising with Jupiter. The Moon is at First Quarter on May 5, Full on May 13, Last Quarter on May 20 and New on May 27.

• Clive Jackson is the Director of the Astronomical Observatory of Tavira (Sítio do Malhão) and the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.

Tel 281 321 754,

Fax 281 324 688,

e-mail: [email protected] or visit