May’s night sky offers a good opportunity to view bright planets. Jupiter dominates the sky from the moment it gets dark, and Saturn rises later in the evening. You can still catch a fading Mars in the evening twilight. And early risers can see Venus shining brilliantly before dawn. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on May 5th/6th.
Welcome to Skymania’s guide to the night sky in May, 2017. You will find a map of the whole visible sky, which can be adjusted for any time and date, plus information on the position of the planets, phases of the Moon, and notable astronomical events to watch out for. (To open the sky map in a separate window, click here.)
For the night sky in the southern hemisphere, click here.
The planets in May 2017
Mercury is in the morning sky throughout May, rising shortly before the Sun. It is likely to be lost low in the pre-dawn twilight for most of us.
Venus has now climbed high above the eastern horizon and shines like a bright beacon that will catch the attention of anyone out and about. Through a telescope it will appear as a steadily growing crescent. The planet shines at a brilliant -4.5 magnitude by the month’s end.
Mars is still hanging on in the evening sky, shining like a bright star. The planet is receding on the far side of the Sun now and its brightness fades from magnitude 1.3 to 1.5 during the month.
Jupiter , the biggest planet in the Solar System, is very well placed, rising in the mid evening. Find it in the constellation of Virgo, not far from its brightest star, Spica, using our helpful guide. The planet shines at around -2.5, making it the brightest object in the sky after the Moon and Venus. A small telescope will reveal the planet’s belts and bands as well as the four main moons, known as the Galilean satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
Saturn lies in the morning sky this month, rising in the late evening at the beginning of April but two hours earlier by month’s end. To the naked eye, it resembles a bright yellow star at magnitude 0.5. A small telescope will show its rings are wide open, making it an attractive sight.
Meteors from Halley’s Comet
The Eta Aquarids are one of two meteor showers visible every year which are made up of the dust from Halley’s Comet (the other is the Orionids in October). So-named because the meteors appear to radiate from a point near the star Eta in Aquarius, this shower became active in April and some meteors might be seen throughout much of May. The peak occurs on the night of May 5th/6th when rates under ideal conditions could reach 50 or more an hour. Unfortunately for northern hemisphere observers, the radiant remains low in the sky and the summer nights provide little darkness. Conditions are much more favourable from the southern hemisphere, though a bright gibbous Moon will drown out the fainter meteors. Here is our full guide to observing the Eta Aquarids in 2017.
Comet Johnson visible with binoculars
A comet is brightening as it crosses the constellation of Bootes, the herdsman, this month and should be easy to see with binoculars if you have a clear, dark sky. Check out our article on how to see the comet (C/2015 V2 Johnson), which includes a chart plotting its changing position.
The Moon always makes a great target for a small telescope, which come into view as its phases change. We’ve a guide to where to find 50 of the best lunar features, plus a checklist to download so you can tick them off as you spot them! Don’t have a telescope? Here’s our guide to choosing one.
Phases of the Moon
Full Moon: May 10
Last Quarter: May 19
New Moon: May 25
Image courtesy U.S.N.O.
Fifty fantastic features – our amazing Moon
Here’s our guide to observing some of the finest sights on the Moon with small telescopes. Click here for pages of charts that will help you find interesting features to seek out yourself, including craters, lava flows, mountain ranges and deep chasms!