May 2021 is here with its warmer evenings and shorter nights. Why not go stargazing? This is a brilliant outdoor activity the whole family can enjoy! It doesn’t require any special equipment (although a flask of hot chocolate is pretty special if you ask me!) and it’s absolutely free! You can observe the night sky from your own garden or a nearby field, but a drive to a designated dark sky discovery site will significantly improve your stargazing experience. Chances are, there is one not far from where you live!
So…Here are some of the celestial miracles to look out for in May 2021. Clear skies!
Watching the Moon change its appearance through the month never gets boring. But do you know why the Moon changes shape? Can you tell your first quarter from the last quarter? Do you know if the Moon looks different to the observers in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere?
Here is a brilliant video to help you brush up on your Moon Phases knowledge. Watch it with your kids!
Moon phases this months
- 3 May: Last Quarter Moon
- 11 May: Micro New Moon; Micro means that the Moon is near APOGEE, that is the furthest point from the Earth in its orbit
- 19 May: First Quarter Moon
- 26 May: Super Full ”Flower” Moon; Super means that the Moon is near PERIGEE, that is the closest point to the Earth in its orbit. On May 26th the observers in Australia, South America and South-East Asia will be able to enjoy the total lunar eclipse!
The Eta Aquarids is a modest meteor shower that is active every year between April 19 and May 28. These shooting stars are bits of debris left over by the famous Halley comet, the only naked eye comet one can see twice in their lifetime. (The comet is also responsible for another meteor shower, Orionids, that we observe in October.)
In May 2021 the shower will peak on the night of May 5th, when you can expect to see up to 10 meteors every hour. The peak of the Eta Aquarids is quite broad, meaning that you have a good chance to spotting the shooting stars the night before and the night after the peak too!
Five naked eye planets will be visible in May 2021: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Jupiter and Saturn can be seen in the early morning before sunrise, while the two innermost planets – Mercury and Venus – in the early evening around sunset. The Red planet Mars – although it is no longer as bright as it was in the Winter – will be high up in the sky all evening.
A few words on observing Mercury
Mercury is not the easiest planet to observe. Being small and orbiting close to the Sun, it only appears around sunsets or dawns and is often lost in the Sun’s glare. The maximum elongation – that is angular separation from the Sun – Mercury can ever reach is 28 degrees. It is said that Nicolaus Copernicus himself – the very man who placed the Sun in the centre of the Solar System – never saw Mercury.
On May 16-17 Mercury will reach its Greatest Eastern Elongation (a rather confusing term given that the planet will appear in the West; Eastern here simply means that Mercury will be East of the Sun). This might be your chance to spot the smallest Solar System planet! Please take extra care when observing Mercury: wait until the Sun fully sets, never look directly at the Sun or point your instruments at it.
If the idea of going out with a sky map or a stargazing app (here are some of the best Open source planetarium software and free night sky apps for stargazers) sounds a bit overwhelming, why not visit an inflatable planetarium instead? We will bring the starry sky to your venue and guide you though the most famous constellations and other celestial wonders you can see at night! To learn more About Us: Wonderdome or to book your stargazing experience, simply go to our web page http://wonderdome.co.uk.