This Month’s Sky – May 2014

AAA Observers’ May Guide

May’s Evening Planets: Jupiter is viewed in Gemini the Twins until around midnight, getting lower in the sky each night. Mars will be in Virgo the Maiden all night along with Saturn positioned in Libra the Scales. Mercury will be visible after sun-set, close to the horizon, for about an hour.

May’s Evening Stars: As of 11:00 p.m., spot the Summer Triangle of bright Vega in Lyra the Harp, Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, and Altair in Aquila the Eagle. The Triangle will be viewed earlier each night. Spot Spica in Virgo the Maiden and Arcturus in Boötes the Herdsman. Sirius, the brightest star viewed from Earth will be close to the horizon for several hours after sunset. Capella, in Auriga the Charioteer, will shine in the early night. Also, the stars of constellations Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Libra, Scorpius, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Perseus,
Draco, Virgo, and the two Dippers can be viewed.

May’s Morning Planets: Venus and Uranus will be in Pisces the Fish as of 4:00 AM. Blue Neptune will rise in Aquarius the Water Bearer around 4:00 a.m., beginning of May and at 2:00 a.m. by the end of the month. Mars and Saturn both linger in the early morning sky for all of May. Dwarf planet Pluto can be seen in the early morning, in Sagittarius the Archer.

May’s Morning Stars: The Summer Triangle Vega, Deneb, and Altair will be high in the sky all morning. Spot red supergiant star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion and Arcturus in Boötes the Herdsman. Spot the stars of Sagittarius the Archer, Libra the Scales, Scorpio the Scorpion, and Aquarius the Water Bearer. Stars of Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Perseus, Draco, and the two Dippers will linger though the morning.

May’s “Skylights”
May 4 Moon is 5° south of Jupiter at 10:00 a.m. (EST)
May 6 Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower peaks before dawn Comet 209P/LINEAR at perihelion – closest approach to the Sun. First Quarter Moon at 11:15 p.m. (EST). Moon is at apogee (251,232 miles from Earth) at 6:24 a.m. (EST)
May 10 Saturn at opposition; brightest appearance this year
May 11 Moon is 3° South of Mars at 10:00 a.m. (EST)
May 14 Moon is 0.5° south of Saturn at 8:00 a.m. (EST) Full Moon at 3:16 p.m. (EST)
May 18 Moon is at perigee (228,108 miles from Earth) at 7:58 a.m. (EST)
May 21 Moon is 5° north of Neptune at midnight. Last Quarter Moon at 8:59 a.m. (EST)
May 24 Possible new meteor shower peaks before dawn (see column on Night Sky Highlights)
May 28 New Moon at 2:40 p.m. (EST)

Night Sky Highlights
New Meteor Shower Peaks May 24-25
May Join the Annual Lineup

A new meteor shower is a candidate to join the list of a dozen major showers that we observe every year from Earth. In 2008 the International Astronomical Union designated 209P-LINEAR as the name for the comet that was discovered in 2004. Comet 209P-LINEAR orbits the Sun every five years, and has been doing so for a long time. This May, the path of Earth’s orbit will intersect with the debris orbit of the comet, causing the comet’s dust to enter our atmosphere and burn up in a meteor shower.

When to Look?
The night of May 24-25 is the peak night. The peak win-dow is after midnight through the early hours of the morning of May 25. The nights before and after the peak will have similar, or close to, the number of meteors. The peak is few days before the new moon, so the thin crescent moon’s effect on the number of the viewed meteors will be minor.

Where to Look?
All you need to do is to look up above you, but if you trace the meteors back, they will seem to radiate from a loca-tion in the north sky between the constel-lations Cassiopeia the Queen and Ursa Major the Great Bear. It is anticipated to radiate from the constellation Camelopardalis the Camelopard known as the “Giraffe”.

Who Can See It?
The predicted meteor shower will favor the northern hemisphere, and the peak time will favor Canada and the United States. It will be viewed with naked eye – no need for any equipment. The perfect viewing conditions are clear skies at a location as far as possible from light pollution.

How Many Shooting Stars Will We See?
It is not clear yet how many shooting stars we will be able to see, but one shooting star per minute at the peak is a good start if the predictions hold. Speculations of hundreds of shooting stars per hour were not ruled out.

What Will It Be Called?
Meteor showers are often called after the constellations they seem to be radiating from. If the meteors looked as if they were starting from the constellation Camelopardalis the shower might be called Camelid, Camelonid, or other similar derivatives from the constellation name.
If it ends up radiating from the nearby constellation Lynx, it might be called Lynxonid, or Lynxeid, and so on.