Night Sky: Visible Planets, Moon Phases & Events, May 2013
The night sky tonight and on any clear night offers an ever-changing display of fascinating objects you can see, from stars and constellations to bright planets, often the moon, and sometimes special events like meteor showers. Observing the night sky can be done with no special equipment, although a sky map can be very useful, and a good beginner telescope or binoculars will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view. Below, find out what’s up in the night sky tonight (Planets Visible Now, Moon Phases, Observing Highlights This Month) plus other resources (Skywatching Terms, Night Sky Observing Tips and Further Reading).
Monthly skywatching information is provided to SPACE.com by Geoff Gaherty of Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu.
Editor's note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sky Events May 2013
Thu., May 2, 7:14 a.m. EDT
Last Quarter Moon
The last or third quarter moon rises around 2 a.m. and sets around 1 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.
Thu., May 9, 8:28 p.m. EDT
The moon is not visible on the date of new moon because it is too close to the sun, but can be seen low in the east as a narrow crescent a morning or two before, just before sunrise. It is visible low in the west an evening or two after new moon.
Sat., May 18, 12:34 a.m. EDT
First Quarter Moon
The first quarter moon rises around 1 p.m. and sets around 2 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.
Sat., May 25, 12:25 a.m. EDT
The full moon of May is called the Milk Moon. Its Cree name is Aligipizun, meaning “Frog Moon.” Other names are Corn Planting Moon, Corn Moon, Hare Moon, and Flower Moon. In Hindi it is known as Buddha Poornima. Its Sinhala (Buddhist) name is Vesak. The full moon rises around sunset and sets around sunrise, the only night in the month when the moon is in the sky all night long. The rest of the month, the moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky.
Thu., May 31, 2:58 p.m. EDT
Last Quarter Moon
This is the second last quarter moon this month. It rises around 1 a.m. and sets around 1 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.
Fri., May 10
Annular Solar Eclipse
An annular solar eclipse will be visible in a narrow path stretching from central Australia across the south Pacific Ocean. Partial phases of this eclipse will be visible over a much larger area. This is how it will look at maximum eclipse in Cooktown, Australia.
Sat., May 11, after sunset
The moon framed by Jupiter and Venus
Venus has now moved into the evening sky, and tonight it and Jupiter frame the slender crescent moon.
Wed., May 22, before sunrise
Spica near the moon
The moon will move closer to the bright star Spica all night long, getting closest just around the time the moon sets. As seen from southeast Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, northeastern Australia, and Polynesia, the moon will actually pass in front of Spica.
Thu., May 23, before sunrise
Saturn near the moon
The following night, the moon will move closer to Saturn, again getting closer all night.
Fri., May 24, after sunset
Venus and Mercury in conjunction
Venus and Mercury are in close conjunction, with Jupiter a few degrees away.
Sun., May 26, after sunset
Three bright planets, Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter, form a 2-degree equilateral triangle in the western sky just after sunset.
Tue., May 28, after sunset
Venus and Jupiter in conjunction
The three planets rearrange themselves so that Jupiter and Venus are only a degree apart, with Mercury just above.
Mercury will be in the western sky at sunset for the last week of May, moving towards maximum elongation on June 12. Although only an average apparition of Mercury, its proximity to the brighter planets Venus and Jupiter will make Mercury easier than usual to spot. In particular it will be in close conjunction with Venus on May 24.
Venus is now an “evening star” setting just after the sun.
Mars is on the far side of the sun, not visible this month.
Jupiter continues its stay in Taurus. It is low in the western sky at dusk, and sets soon afterwards.
Saturn is just past opposition near the border between Libra and Virgo. It is visible most of the night.
Uranus is in Pisces, rising just before the sun.
Neptune is in Aquarius all month, visible in the morning sky.
- Asterism: A noteworthy or striking pattern of stars within a larger constellation.
- Degrees (measuring the sky): The sky is 360 degrees all the way around, which means roughly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It’s easy to measure distances between objects: Your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky.
- Visual Magnitude: This is the astronomer’s scale for measuring the brightness of objects in the sky. The dimmest object visible in the night sky under perfectly dark conditions is about magnitude 6.5. Brighter stars are magnitude 2 or 1. The brightest objects get negative numbers. Venus can be as bright as magnitude minus 4.9. The full moon is minus 12.7 and the sun is minus 26.8.
- Terminator: The boundary on the moon between sunlight and shadow.
- Zenith: The point in the sky directly overhead.
NIGHT SKY OBSERVING TIPS
- Adjust to the dark: If you wish to observe faint objects, such as meteors or dim stars, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness.
- Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars and sometimes the brightest planets. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that represents our view toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy — rural areas are best for night sky viewing. If you’re stuck in a city or suburban area, a building can be used to block ambient light (or moonlight) to help reveal fainter objects. If you’re in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
- Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be out for more than a few minutes, and it’s not a warm summer evening, dress warmer than you think necessary. An hour of observing a winter meteor shower can chill you to the bone. A blanket or lounge chair will prove much more comfortable than standing or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
- Daytime skywatching: When Venus is visible (that is, not in front of or behind the sun) it can often be spotted during the day. But you’ll need to know where to look. A sky map is helpful. When the sun has large sunspots, they can be seen without a telescope. However, it’s unsafe to look at the sun without protective eyewear. See our video on how to safely observe the sun, or our safe sunwatching infographic.