Every week, SkyNews publishes a list of key events in the Canadian sky in This Week’s Sky. This series gives you all the latest news in Solar System movements, including where the planets are in our sky and Moon phases. From eclipses to meteor showers, This Week’s Sky keeps you updated on the best in upcoming astronomical highlights.
Monday, May 2 – Young Moon near Mercury (after dusk)
On Monday, May 2, the freshly-minted young crescent Moon will shine above the west-northwestern horizon after sunset. The bright, magnitude 0.75 dot of Mercury will shine four finger widths to the Moon’s lower right (or 4 degrees to the celestial northwest) — close enough to share the view in binoculars (green circle). Keep an eye out for the Pleiades star cluster positioned just to Mercury’s lower right.
Wednesday, May 4 – Moon Meets Messier 35 (evening)
In the western sky after dusk on Wednesday evening, May 4, the waxing crescent Moon will shine several finger widths to the right (or 3 degrees to the celestial northwest) of the large open star cluster in Gemini known as Messier 35 (or the Shoe-Buckle Cluster and NGC 2168). For observers west of the Eastern Time Zone, the Moon will appear a little closer to the cluster. The Moon and Messier 35 will share the view in binoculars (green circle). To better see the cluster, which is almost as wide as the Moon, hide the Moon just beyond the right side of your binoculars field of view. The medium-bright stars Tejat Posterior and Tejat Prior (Mu and Nu Geminorum, respectively) form Castor’s toes. They can help you find the cluster even when the Moon has moved away.
Friday, May 6 – Eta Aquariids Meteor Shower Peak (pre-dawn)
The annual Eta Aquariids Meteor Shower is produced by particles of material left behind by repeated passages of Halley’s Comet. The shower, which runs from April 19 to May 28, will peak in intensity before dawn on Friday, May 6, when up to a few dozen meteors per hour are predicted to appear, including some fireballs. Skywatchers can also watch for meteors starting after dusk on Thursday evening, but a 23-per-cent illuminated Moon will hide the fainter streaks until it sets around midnight. Eta Aquariids meteors will appear to be travelling away from a radiant point in Aquarius, which will rise above the southeastern horizon after 2:30 a.m. local time. This year, the planets Jupiter, Mars and Saturn will be positioned below the radiant. This shower is better for observers at low latitudes.
Saturday, May 7 – Bright Moon buzzes the Beehive Cluster (evening)
On Saturday night, May 7, the easterly orbital motion of the waxing crescent Moon will carry past the huge open star cluster in Cancer known as the Beehive, Praesepe and Messier 44. After dusk, the Moon will shine several finger widths to the upper right (or 3.5 degrees to the celestial north of) the cluster. Towards midnight, the Moon will move a little closer to the Beehive. The Moon and the cluster will be close enough to share the field of binoculars (green circle), but you’ll see more of the “bees” if you hide the Moon just outside of your field of view.
Sunday, May 8 – First quarter Moon (at 00:21 GMT on May 9)
When the Moon completes the first quarter of its orbit around Earth at 8:21 p.m. EDT on Sunday, May 8 (or 00:21 GMT on Monday, May 9), the relative positions of the Earth, Sun and Moon will cause us to see our natural satellite half-illuminated on its eastern side. While at first quarter, the Moon always rises around noon and sets around midnight, allowing it to be seen in the afternoon daytime sky, too. The evenings surrounding the first quarter phase are the best ones for viewing the lunar terrain when it is dramatically lit by low-angled sunlight. Observers in parts of Asia and the Pacific Ocean will be able to see the Lunar X and V features for several hours, centred around 10:30 a.m. UTC.
Chris Vaughan is a science writer, geophysicist, astronomer, planetary scientist and an “outreach RASCal.” He writes Astronomy Skylights, and you can follow him on Twitter at @astrogeoguy. He can also bring his Digital Starlab portable inflatable planetarium to your school or other daytime or evening event. Contact him through AstroGeo.ca to tour the Universe together.