WELCOME to the May night sky. This month, the daytime temperature can climb into the 30s and the nights offer cool relief. Soon after sunset, in the west-northwest, you can view planet Venus for the first time this year.
In the early evening of May 9, the very thin crescent Moon can be seen just above Venus, with the neat little star group of the Pleiades just visible to the right of the planet. Venus has been behind the Sun, from our point of view on the Earth, for several weeks now and, therefore, was not visible.
Right overhead at nightfall, the constellation of Ursa Major is on view. This grand group of seven stars has various common names. For example, in Britain it is known as the Plough, in Germany as the Big Wagon, and in China as the Emperors Chariot. You may ask why this star group doesn’t look like a bear in the first place to avoid all this celestial confusion! Well, the fact is that, thousands of years ago, when the name was first applied, the skies were much darker at night than they are now and, when you can see this constellation with all its full complement of faint and bright stars – and with a little bit of imagination – it really could pass for a bear!
Interestingly, the North America Indians saw this constellation as a bear as well as the ancient Greeks. There is a very logical explanation for this: thousands of years ago in Europe and North America, bears were very common and, in the spring, just as Ursa Major was climbing up from the North Eastern Horizon, big bears were coming out of hibernation and were very hungry. This was a time to be careful in the forest and well worthy of a reminder in the sky!
On the night of the 13th, the Crescent Moon will be close to planet Saturn in the constellation of Gemini. On the 16th, the First Quarter Moon will be in the constellation of Leo next to the bright star Regulus and, finally, on the 19th the Moon is close to planet Jupiter, in the constellation of Virgo.
The Moon is at Last Quarter on the 1st, New Moon on the 8th, First Quarter on the 16th and Full Moon on May 23.