Saturday, December 4, 2021

Night Skies

Photo by Frank Steiger Photography


Ah, the Moon. Young lovers, poets and sci-fi fans can’t get enough of it. And this month the Moon not only brings along some of her planetary friends for spectacular nighttime viewing, but we get a lunar eclipse as well, albeit a short, partial one for Florida.

Submitted Photo | Charles Messier, French astronomer, at the age of 40 with a celestial globe.

May Planets: On the morning of May 3 through May 5, early birds can see the quarter Moon along with Jupiter and Saturn above the southeastern horizon. It starts to the right of Saturn on May 3 and by May 5 will be to the lower left of Jupiter, closer to the horizon. After the New Moon on May 11, the waxing crescent Moon swings by three planets at dusk: a “fingernail” Moon is just one-degree from Venus on May 12, Mercury on May 13, and Mars on May 15. Look to the west where the low light allows her planetary neighbors to shine. But our Moon doesn’t just highlight planets. On May 19, high above the southwestern horizon, the first quarter Moon isn’t far from Regulus in Leo. And on May 23, the waxing gibbous Moon is close to blue-white Spica in Virgo.

May 26 Supermoon and Lunar Eclipse: The full Moon in May is the closest of the year, which means it’s another Supermoon. The Flower Moon also brings a Total Lunar Eclipse on May 26 that will be visible for Western North America (California, Washington, Arizona and of course, Hawaii), the bottom tip of South America, the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia. If you’re traveling out west, you can see the eclipse early in the morning before sunrise. While we won’t get to see a total eclipse, we will get to see the beginning of a partial eclipse starting at 5:45am. The Moon will be very close to the horizon here so get to the beach or another area that has a long view of west to southwest if you want to catch some of it. We won’t get much of this partial eclipse – barely an hour – before the Moon sets and the full effect happens out of sight – well, our sight at least.

Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower Peaks May 4-6: If you are looking for a meteor shower, the Eta Aquarids are due to peak May 5 but astronomers say you shouldn’t discount May 4 or May 6, either (Eta Aquarids actually runs April 19 through May 28). While most of the activity is in the Southern Hemisphere, Florida and other southern states can still see anywhere between 10 to 30 meteors an hour, making it about average (northernmost states don’t get as many). The Eta Aquarids come from dust particles left by Halley’s Comet which was first recorded by Chinese astronomers in 239 B.C. The quarter moon that is producing those camera worthy views of Jupiter and Saturn may block out some of the faintest meteors but with a little patience, there should be some great ones to catch. As it seems with all meteor showers, start checking an hour or two before dawn. Eta Aquarids originates from the constellation of Aquarius so look to the southeast but remember, they can appear anywhere in the sky.

Historical events: Charles Messier was at it again! In 1764 he made his first discovery of a deep-sky object and discovered the globular clusters M9 and M10. The first observation of Neptune was made in 1793 when Lalande mistook it for a star. Closer to home, Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space May 5, 1961.

So, to recap – and because I just can’t help myself – “May the Fourth” through May 6 be with you while viewing the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, and meteors. Can’t get any more appropriate than that! 



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