Looking Up

May 2022

 This month is highlighted the first prime-time total lunar eclipse since, probably, 2015. We have had a few partials and some in the morning hours, but on Sunday night, May 15, we have a great event to watch. A lunar eclipse occurs when the full Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow so it looks like something is taking a bite out of the Moon. Since the Moon’s orbit is off five degrees, it usually passes above or below the shadow. The umbral part of the event begins at 9:28pm and the Moon is completely in the shadow at 10:29pm. The Moon begins to emerge from the shadow at 11:54pm and we have a full Moon again by 12:55am. If skies are clear, we hope to have CUAS telescope set-up in the circle drive of the Staerkel Planetarium beginning at 9pm. I hope you can join us! Besides that, the only evening planet is Mercury, but you have to look early in the month. Mercury was best last month but you can catch a glimpse of it in early May. On the evening of May 1 st. Look in the west-northwest at 8:30pm and wait on Mercury to appear. Use binoculars and look just to the right of the planet for the Pleiades star cluster. A very thin crescent Moon will be below. On May 2nd, the Moon is above and left of Mercury and right of Aldebaran. By May 17th , Mercury will be tough to see as it will appear closer to the glare of the Sun. Shifting our attention to the morning sky, Jupiter and Venus just had their close approach and will now seem to separate. To the upper right are Mars and then Saturn. The latter two are roughly the same brightness with Mars taking on a reddish color. Starting from nearly due east, the quartet make a nearly straight line extending at an angle to the horizon, towards the southeast. Look around 5am. On the morning of the 18th, Neptune is 0.5 degrees above Mars, though you’ll need a telescope to see it. On the morning of the 24th, the waning crescent Moon joins up. Five mornings later, on the 29th, the Moon is out of the picture but Jupiter and Mars come together, missing each other by 0.6 degrees. Set an alarm to check it out! The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks during the first weekend of May. The Eta Aquarids result from the Earth crossing the orbit of Halley’s Comet (we do so again in October). The comet isn’t in the neighborhood but the dust from the comet has spread out in its orbit. Though the shower favors the southern hemisphere, you’ll still average a meteor ever couple of minutes or so. The morning hours are favored.