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What's In The Sky This Month

Get outside with your telescope on clear May evenings to see celestial treats in the sky! With weather warming up and skies clearing up, there's no shortage of celestial delicacies to view. Here are a few of Orion's top suggestions for May observing:

  • Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower - Grab a blanket or a comfy lounge chair to watch the Eta Aquarids meteor shower, which peaks during May 5th and 6th. Even though the Full Moon of May 4th will make observations somewhat challenging this year, there will still be worthwhile opportunities to see meteors streak across the night sky at the approximate rate of 40 per hour. Meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius.
  • Pre-dawn Pairing - On the morning of May 5th, Saturn will appear within 2 degrees of the waning gibbous Moon in the southwest sky. While the actual closest proximity between the Moon and Saturn will occur after sunrise at 9:26am PDT, this pretty pairing will make a more eye-catching conjunction in the darker pre-dawn skies.
  • Four Big Planetary Nebulas - Use a 6" or larger telescope and an Oxygen-III or UltraBlock filter to catch nice views of four relatively large planetary nebulas in May skies. See the "Ghost of Jupiter," NGC 3242 in Hydra; M97, "the Owl Nebula" in the Big Dipper; NGC 4361 in Corvus, and the famous "Ring Nebula", M57 in Lyra just a few degrees from bright star Vega.
  • Moon occults Aldebaran - At approximately 7:50pm PDT on May 18th, the Moon will pass between the Earth and bright star Aldebaran in an event called an occultation. This interesting sight can be enjoyed in most telescopes and 50mm or larger binoculars, as Aldebaran appears to "hide" behind the Moon.
  • Saturn at Opposition - On May 23, the ringed planet will make its closest approach to Earth. Saturn will be visible all night long in the constellation Libra, and it will be brighter than any other night of the year, providing a welcome opportunity for great views in a telescope. Saturn's brighter moons such as Titan and Enceladus will also be great targets for 6" and larger telescopes. Opposition is arguably the best night of the year to capture astrophotos of Saturn and its majestic rings.
  • Four Face-On Spirals - Use large telescopes to see the classic pinwheel shapes of galaxies M51 and M101 in the Big Dipper asterism, and M99 and M100 in the Virgo galaxy cluster. There are also dozens of additional galaxies to explore in the Virgo cluster with a big-aperture telescope.
  • May's Challenge Object - May skies present some of the best opportunities to grab a view of Omega Centauri the brightest globular star cluster in the sky! While it's big and bright, even visible as a "fuzzy" star in binoculars, the challenge Omega Centauri presents is its low position in southern skies, which can make it unobservable from higher northern latitudes.


All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution is minimal and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.