Astro Corner: What’s up in the May sky

May 6–7: Eta Aquarids

This month we get treated to Eta Aquarid meteor shower.

Though the best spot for this shower is in the southern tropics (as the radiant, or area in the sky from which they seem to appear will be higher in the sky), we can still expect to see about 10 to 30 meteors per hour.

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is active from April 19 to May 26.

NASA

If you want to catch them for yourself,  you can just grab a blanket, dress warmly, and lie on the grass. However, the best time is just before dawn, so don’t be too disappointed if you don’t see very many during the night.

The peak occurs on the night of May 6 to 7. The good news is that the moon will only just be coming out of its new phase, so the sky will be dark to catch even faint meteors.

May 9: Transit of Mercury

When a planet passes in front of the sun (or a moon passes in front of a planet), astronomers call it a transit. On May 9, Mercury, the first planet out from the sun, will transit the sun.

READ MORE: Transit of Mercury: How to see the May 9 event across Canada

From our perspective here on Earth, only two planets can ever pass in front of the sun: Mercury and Venus. The last time we had a transit of Venus was in 2012. The next transit will be in 2117.

WATCH: The Mercury transit

While transits of Venus are rare (they occur once every eight years and then don’t occur for another 105), that’s not the case for Mercury.

The last time Mercury dotted the sun was in 2006 and the next one will occur in 2019.

May 14: Waxing gibbous moon near Jupiter

Jupiter, the mighty king of the solar system, has been gracing our sky for the past few months. You can easily spot it as the brightest object in the night sky.

The moon and Jupiter will only be separated by about 3 degrees.

Courtesy Stellarium

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    On this night, you’ll be able to spot the moon, a waxing gibbous (a moon is waxing when it’s headed towards its full phase; it’s waning when it’s headed towards its new phase), together with Jupiter.

    The pair actually rise in the daylight hours, around 2 p.m. So when the sun sets, they will be high in the southern sky.

    May 21: The full moon, Mars, Saturn and Antares

    This month’s full moon has a lot of company.

    On this night,  you can spot the moon, Saturn, Mars and the bright red star Antares.

    You can find them in the southeastern sky around 11 p.m. Saturn will lie southwest of the moon, while Mars will lie to the southeast. The red supergiant star, Antares, part of the summer constellation of Scorpius, will lie south of the moon.

    The full moon, Mars, Saturn and the red supergiant star Antares as they appear in the sky on May 21.

    Courtesy Stellarium

    May 30: Mars closest to Earth

    No, it won’t appear as big as the full moon (nor will it ever).

    On May 30, Mars will be about 75.3 million kilometres from Earth. This happens because both planets don’t have perfectly circular orbits. Instead, they are elliptical, bringing the pair close together and farther apart at times.

    This shows the apparent size of Mars in 2016 as compared to the moon.The red planet will appear brightest from May 18-June 3.

    NASA/JPL-Caltech

    You may even notice a rise in the planet’s brightness from May 18 to June 3. By the middle of June Mars will become a bit fainter as our two planets move away from each other.

    Mars makes its closest approach once every 26 months. The next one will be on July 31, 2018.

    In 2003, Mars made the closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years. The next time that happens will be 2287.

    Check back next month for what’s up in the June sky.

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