Celestial events glow in May: full moon, meteor shower, photo ops

ST. GEORGE – Stargazers and sky watchers have plenty to look forward to in the month of May, with a Full Flower Moon, a meteor shower and a great time to photograph Mercury and Saturn.

Full Flower Moon

On May 3, the first full moon of May will make its appearance. According to seasky.org, this full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Flower Moon because this was the time of year when spring flowers appeared in abundance. This moon has also been known as the Full Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon.

Stock photo | St. George News
Stock photo | St. George News

Although the moon will appear full all night long, the full moon really happens at a well-defined instant, turning precisely full on May 3 at 9:42 p.m. MDT, according to earthsky.org.

Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower 

May 5-6 is the Eta Aquarids metoer shower. This is an above-average shower, capable of producing up to 30 meteors per hour.

This long-running shower is visible from April 19 through May 28, and is expected to peak on the night of May 5 and the morning of May 6. It is produced by dust particles left behind by comet Halley, which has been observed since ancient times.

Unfortunately, the nearly full moon from May 4 will be a problem this year, washing out all but the brightest meteors. If you are patient, you should still be able to catch a few good ones. The best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but can appear anywhere in the sky. The best viewing is usually to the east after midnight.

Mercury and the Pleiades

Late April and the first few weeks of May present a grand time to catch Mercury, the innermost planet, in the early evening sky. As a bonus, Mercury will couple up with the Pleiades star cluster for several evenings in a row, centered on May 1. At mid-northern latitudes, Mercury will set a whopping 100 minutes after the sun for the next two weeks, given a level horizon. This is a great time to take a photograph, according to earthsky.org.

New Moon

May 18, the new moon, is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

Saturn at Opposition

May 23 will be the best night of the year to view and photograph Saturn, as it makes its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. A medium-sized or larger telescope will allow you to see Saturn’s rings and a few of its brightest moons.

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2 Comments

  • sagemoon April 30, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Awesome! I love these astronomical updates.

  • DB April 30, 2015 at 3:46 pm

    Sagemoon +1…I’ll be at Joshua Tree NP around the full moon time, looking forward to photographing at night almost much as in the daylight.

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