Night sky for May 2012

Sun: Nights become noticeably longer as the Sun moves further into the northern sky.

Moon: The Moon appears close to several bright stars and planets this month. These include Antares on May 7, Venus on May 23, and Mars and Regulus on May 28.

Full Moon occurs on May 6 with Last Quarter falling on May 13. New Moon is on May 21 and First Quarter follows on May 29.

Meteor Showers: The Eta Aquarids may be visible around 5am throughout the month. The peak is early in May but moonlight interferes. Best dates for viewing are May 20-28.

The Planets:

Mercury appears as a bright star in the pre-dawn sky, during the first week of May. Look eastwards, around 6am, around 20 degrees above the horizon.

Venus remains a brilliant object, low in the northwestern evening sky but is moving closer to the Sun. By May 20 it will be difficult to locate against the bright twilight.

Mars is almost directly north around 8pm. Look for a bright orange star, midway up the sky. The planet is in the constellation of Leo.

Jupiter is at conjunction with the Sun on May 13, after which it will pass into the morning sky. However, it is not likely to be easily visible.

Saturn is well positioned for viewing throughout the evening. Face eastwards, around 7pm and an obvious pair of stars will be noticed. The lower one is Saturn, and the upper one is Spica.

Stars and Constellations:

Our winter sky is rapidly approaching as we notice Orion setting on its side in the west. Directly above it is the brightest star, Sirius, with Procyon to its north.

Castor and Pollux, belonging to the constellation of Gemini, stand out above the northwest horizon.

Leo is directly north, while Bootes is rising in the northeast. The red star nearby is Arcturus.

In the eastern sky, Scorpius has risen and to its south, Sagittarius is coming over the horizon.

Overhead the Milky Way runs eastwest, with Centaurus and the Southern Cross almost at the zenith.

The southern quadrant of the sky looks a little empty of bright stars except for Achernar, which is low in the southwest.

Both Magellanic Clouds are almost directly south.

zPrepared for the Taranaki Daily News, by Tom Whelan, Cape Egmont Observatory.

Taranaki Daily News