April was a great month for enjoying the night sky with lots to see including the super moon, Lyrids Meteor shower and a very bright Venus. Vernon from the Callander and West Perthshire U3A Astronomy group shares what to look out for in May, making the most of the the wonderful pollution free skies we have been enjoying. 

The second most prominent object in our night sky in May, after the Moon is Venus. The planet will gradually diminish in brightness over the course of the month and initially will be seen for 4 hours as a beautiful crescent after the sun has set reducing to only 1.5 hours at the end. A further object comes into clear view starting at the middle of the month, planet Mercury. This is easiest to identify on or about the 21st at 9pm in a North Westerly direction where Mercury will be directly below Venus moving further to the left and higher than Venus over the following five nights at which point Venus drops below the night sky horizon. Those who rise early, 4 am between 12th and 15th will be in for a treat and see the three planets, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter rise with the moon low in the south east.

It is always helpful to have a star chart to follow when navigating and observing the heavens.  A free star chart which also contains lots of additional observational notes is published monthly by Skymaps. Simply go to skymaps.com and scroll down to ‘Download the latest issue’. From here you will can download the northern hemisphere version and save it.  This is then best printed double sided to an A4 sheet. It is worth noting that planets do not appear on skymaps.

Looking South

Early in the night the constellation of Virgo is visible with the bright star Spica lying due south. The constellation of Leo is to its west with the bright stars of Regulus and Denebola. Arturus in Bootes is high in the south with the distinctive circlet of Corona Borealis clearly visible in the east. The brightest star is a binary star named Alphecca.

Looking North

The constellations of Lyra, Cephus, Ursa Minor and the whole of Draco are well placed in the sky. Gemini with Castor and Pollux is sinking towards the western horizon. In the east, two of the stars of the ‘Summer Triangle’, Vega and Deneb are clearly visible and the third star Aquila is beginning to climb above the horizon. The whole of Cygnus is now visible and the sprawling constellation of Hercules is high in the east.

Nights of interest

4th May    Eta Aquarids meteor shower
5th May    Eta Aquarids meteor shower maximum at 28 meteors per hour
7th May    Full Moon
9th May    Eta Lyrid meteor shower, peak at 3 meteors per hour
12th May   Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter, 4am
15th May   Conjunction of Moon and Mars, 4am
21st May   Conjunction of Moon and Mercury, 4am
26th May  Start of the Noctilucent Cloud Season. Great for challenging photography.