May evenings provide a great opportunity to grab your telescope and see some of the best celestial treats in the sky! With weather warming up and skies clearing up, there’s no shortage of celestial delicacies to observe. During mid-May nights, Saturn and its stunning rings will be due south of the bright star Arcturus. Just about any telescope will show you Saturn and its marvelous ring system at powers of 40x or above, but views through larger aperture scopes will be better than those through smaller instruments. Here are a few more highlights to keep your eyes peeled for during May
The Active Sun - We’re near solar maximum so it’s a great time to use a simple white light solar filter for dramatic views of ever-changing sunspots. (CAUTION: Never look at the Sun, even for an instant, without a properly fitted solar filter).
The Rings of Saturn - Saturn is visible to the naked eye as a bright disk following the ecliptic path, but you need a telescope and a fairly high power eyepiece (40x or higher) to see the rings and orbiting moons.
Mars - The Red Planet is visible to the naked eye as a reddish disk, but you need a telescope with a fairly high power eyepiece to see any details on our dusty neighbor.
Galaxies in The Big Dipper - including M81, M82 and M101. Use a telescope to catch glimpses of galaxies lurking around the recognizable Big Dipper asterism, use a star chart and track some down! Explore the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies - Point your telescope a couple of Moon diameters east of the star at the end of Leo, Denebola, and start scanning with a low power eyepiece; use a star chart to tell which ones you see!
Annular Solar Eclipse - Visible from many northwestern North America locations prior to sunset on May 20. With a solar filter-equipped telescope or pair of binoculars, you can enjoy the show as the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun. (CAUTION: Never look at the Sun, even for an instant, without a properly fitted solar filter).
Venus - Cloudy Venus is a bright beacon in May evening skies. Train your telescope on our planet’s next-door neighbor and catch glimpses of its dense cloud-choked atmosphere.
The Great Devil Ball, Omega Centauri - The grandest globular star cluster of them all will be visible in May skies to telescope and binocular observers based in Southern U.S.A.
Extra-Galactic Treats in Leo - Use a telescope to hunt down faint fuzzies and deep-space phenomena in and around the constellation Leo under clear May skies. The bigger the telescope, the better your views will be!
Tracking Down M87 - Use big astronomical binoculars or a telescope to see the supergiant elliptical galaxy M87 (a.k.a NGC 4486) in the Virgo cluster and see where a black hole lurks! While we cannot observe the supermassive black hole at the core of this mysterious elliptical galaxy, it’s fun to track down this celestial showpiece.