What to see in the night sky in May 2022

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

◼ Welcome to your guide to the night sky in May. Brilliant morning star Venus and Jupiter are in close conjunction on 1 May. Mars and Jupiter make a close approach towards the end of the month. The Eta (η) Aquariid meteor shower peaks on the morning of the 6th. A total eclipse of the Moon is visible from Europe, Africa, and North and South America on the night of the 15th/16th. Here’s what else you can see in May’s night sky!


May’s star chart

Click on the image above, or the following text for an interactive map of constellations visible in the sky, showing you the night sky in May. It can be adjusted for any time and date.

We also have a map of the night sky set up for mid-latitudes in the southern hemisphere.


The stars in May 2022

As northern skies darken, the familiar asterism of the Plough, or Big Dipper, lies overhead. Follow the curve of its handle to arrive at Arcturus, one of the brightest stars in the sky, in the constellation of Bootes, the Herdsman. If you continue the curve, you reach another bright star, Spica, in Virgo, which is now due south in the sky. Cassiopeia is at its lowest, above the northern horizon, its five brightest stars making a “W” pattern. In the north-eastern sky, Vega, in Lyra, and Deneb, in Cygnus, are rising. Binoculars, or a camera, will reveal the rich star clouds of the Milky Way in Cygnus.

From the southern hemisphere, the bright stars alpha and beta Centauri are virtually overhead, along with Crux Australis, the Southern Cross, to which those stars point. Brilliant star Canopus is low in the southwestern sky. Look north to see bright star Arcturus in Bootes.


The Moon glows red in a total lunar eclipse. Image credit: Paul Sutherland

The planets in May 2022

Mercury

Mercury begins May in the evening sky, and should be easy to spot from northern latitudes during the first days of the month, over the north-western horizon. If you have binoculars, sweep the region of sky as it darkens, to see famous star cluster the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, close by. On the evening of the 2nd, Mercury will lie between the fine crescent Moon and the cluster. This apparition is more tricky from the southern hemisphere. Mercury then rapidly sinks back towards the Sun, reaching inferior conjunction, when it lies roughly between the Sun and Earth, on the 21st.

Read more about Mercury.

Venus

Venus is in the morning sky, shining at magnitude -4.1, and starts the month in close conjunction with more remote planet Jupiter, when they are just 22 arc minutes apart, which is less than a Moon’s width. Over the next few mornings, they steadily move away from each other. This planetary spectacle will be much easier to see from the southern hemisphere, where the planets will stand high over the eastern horizon, than from northern latitudes, where the ecliptic, or approximate plane of the planets’ orbits, lies at a shallow angle to the horizon. We have a special article about this apparition of Venus.

Read more about planet Venus, and also see our general guide to observing Venus.

Mars

Mars is another planet to be found in the morning sky, and the shallow angle of the ecliptic means, again, that it remains low over the eastern horizon before dawn twilight becomes bright and drowns it from sight. The situation is once more better from the southern hemisphere, where it will stand higher in a darker sky before dawn.

If you live down south, you may like to use binoculars or a telescope to see Mars, shining at magnitude 0.8, pass just half a degree south of faint Neptune, at magnitude 7.9. A camera should pick this distant world out too. Mars and Jupiter close in on each other in the last days of May, and the waning crescent Moon will lie close by on the 25th, offering a photographic opportunity.

Read our extensive guide to Mars.

Jupiter

Jupiter, shining at magnitude -2, is in the morning sky and, as mentioned in the notes for Venus, is in close conjunction with that planet on the 1st, after which the two worlds gradually move apart. You can see the planets lined up, along with Mars, from northern latitudes if you have a clear, unobstructed eastern horizon, such as the sea. They will be much easier to see from the southern hemisphere. Mars and Jupiter will be at their apparent closest on the 29th, less than 40 arc minutes apart.

Read more about planet Jupiter.

Saturn

Saturn is last of the bright planets to be found in the morning sky, at magnitude 0.9, in the constellation of Capricornus, and not far from its border with Aquarius. This southerly location in the heavens, together with the shallow ecliptic, means it doesn’t get high in the sky from northern latitudes. However, as the earliest of the morning planets to rise before the Sun, you will get a reasonable chance to find it before twilight begins, given a clear south-eastern horizon unobstructed by hills, buildings or cloud. As with the other morning planets, conditions for observing them are hugely better from the southern hemisphere, where Saturn will be high in the sky before dawn. A small telescope will show Saturn’s rings.

Read more about Saturn.

Uranus

Uranus, in Aries, is in conjunction with the Sun on 5 May and so can not be seen this month.

Read more about Uranus.

Neptune

Neptune, in Aquarius, was in conjunction with the Sun in March and is still tricky to observe before dawn.

Read more about Neptune.


Meteors from Halley’s Comet

The first week of May offers early risers the chance to spot meteors from the dust left by Halley’s Comet. They are from a shower known as the Eta (η) Aquariids, which reaches its peak on the morning of 6 May. Moonlight should not hinder the view before maximum, but will become more of an issue in the second week of May. This shower particularly favours the southern hemisphere, due to the radian’t southerly location. Read our special guide to the η Aquariids.


A sequence of images of a previous lunar eclipse, showing the Moon at the start, middle and end of totality. The middle image was exposed longer to bring out the colour within the shadow. Image credit: Paul Sutherland

Total Eclipse of the Moon

A total eclipse of the Moon occurs on the night of 15/16 May, with the whole event visible from much of North America and the whole of South America. From western Europe and Africa, the eclipse begins in the early hours of the 16th, and the Moon will set soon after the total phase has begun. From the eastern and central USA, the whole eclipse will be visible between mid-evening and early morning. From north-western regions of North America, the Moon will rise with the eclipse already in progress. None of the eclipse is visible from Asia, the Far East or Australasia. Check your own site’s circumstances by comparing the following key times in U.T. (Universal Time) with your own local time.

The Moon enters the penumbra, the bright outer shadow of the Earth, at 1.32 UT on 16 May (9.32pm EDT on 15 May). The partial eclipse, when the Moon enters the darker shadow, or umbra, begins at 2.27 UT (10.27pm EDT). Totality, when the Moon completely enters the umbra, begins at 3.29 UT (11.29 EDT) and ends at 4.53 UT (12.53am EDT). Partial eclipse, when the Moon completely leaves the dark umbra, ends at 5.55 UT (1.55am EDT). The Moon leaves the penumbra, ending the eclipse, at 6.50 UT (2.50am EDT). Totality lasts just under 85 minutes, a long duration due to the Moon passing through the central part of the Earth’s shadow.


The Moon

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.

Lunar phases

New Moon:
30 May
First Quarter:
09 May
Full Moon:
16 May
Last Quarter:
22 May

Fifty fantastic features – our amazing Moon

Here’s our guide to observing some of the finest sights on the Moon with small telescopes. Our pages of charts will help you find interesting features to seek out yourself, including craters, lava flows, mountain ranges and deep chasms!


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