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May 2022 Skies

May 2022 presents four nice planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn dancing around the early morning sky. Mercury is difficult to view since the solar system’s innermost planet transitions from the morning to evening sky this month

EMU in the Sky

May is also a great time to try and find the Emu in the Sky.

According to indigenous legends, emus were creator spirits that used to fly and look over and protect the land.

To spot the emu, look south to the Southern Cross; the dark cloud between the stars is the head, while the neck, body and legs are formed from dust lanes stretching across the Milky Way.

While the head and neck of the Emu can be seen in the sky as early as March, it reaches its first appearance in full length after sunset in May and May, when it is seen stretching from the South to the southeast. At this time, the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi people of Northern NSW say the Emu has legs and appears to be running.

Constellations in May

This is a great time to get out and look in the Southern Skies. The Southern Cross and Pointers are the most famous asterism in the southern sky. Being surrounded by the brilliance of the Milky Way, including several dark nebulae regions making quite a sight.

Did you know that the Southern Cross is the smallest of the 88 official constellations?

The Southern Cross asterism is among the best-known asterisms in the southern hemisphere and is often confused for the constellation of Crux as a whole, however, the Southern Cross is composed of the five brightest stars in Crux.

It was not until 1679 that Crux became a constellation. The Southern Cross asterism gained great significance in many cultures with its five stars being represented on the flags of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Brazil. The Southern Cross is also included in the national anthems of both Australia and Brazil. For today’s piece of astronomical trivia – the Southern Cross is the most tattooed of all the constellations!

A depiction of the Southern Cross was discovered on a stone engraving in Macchu Picchu.

The Incas knew the Southern Cross as “Chakana” – stair – and it played an important part in Incan mysticism, symbolizing the three tiers of the world: the heavens, the world of the living, and the underworld.

Directly underneath the cross is the constellation of Musca the Fly with its four brightest stars form a quadrilateral, ranging from 3.8 to 2.7 magnitude. Musca is a more modern designation, as the constellation was originally called Apis the Bee. Being down under I think blowfly is much more appropriate.

After being Apus, it became went to Musca Australis (Southern Fly) as there used to be a Musca Borealis (Northern Fly). When this northern fly became part of Aries, Musca Australis became just Musca.

The Moon this Month

(All times are in Australian Eastern Standard Time)

  • New Moon:                    06:28 am May 1st
  • First Quarter:                 10:21 am May 9th
  • Full Moon:                     2:14 pm May 16th (which is why we will miss the lunar eclipse visible in the Americas, Africa UK, and Western Europe)
  • Last quarter Moon:      4:43 am May 23rd
  • New Moon:                    (930 pm May 30th

This month there are two new Moons and so you may here media talking about it as a ‘Black Moon’. It is not a well-known astronomical term. In recent years, the term has been made popular by social media, astrologers, and followers of the Wiccan religion.

There is no single accepted definition of a Black Moon. The term has been commonly used to refer to the following related to a New Moon.

Second New Moon in the same month: These Black Moons are the most common ones, and they occur about once every 29 months. Because of time zone differences, the month they happen in can vary.

Third New Moon in a season of four New Moons: These Black Moons are a little rarer, and occur about once every 33 months. We divide a year into four seasons—spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Usually, each season has three months and three New Moons. When a season has four New Moons, the third New Moon is called a Black Moon. Like the Blue Moon which relates to the Full Moon.

The final definition relates to when there is no New Moon in February: This occurs about  once every 19 years. This can only happen in February, as this is the only month which is shorter than a lunar month (lunation). When this occurs, both January and March have two New Moons, instead of just one.

The next Black Moon by this definition will occur in 2033, while the last one was in 2014. Because of time zone differences, these Black Moons may not happen all over the world. For instance, there was such a Black Moon in the most western parts of the US in February 2022, but not in Europe or Australia.

Black Moons hold special significance to people who practice certain forms of Pagan religions and who believe certain actions become more potent when performed on the night of a Black Moon.

The Moon’s orbit around Earth is elliptical. The point of the orbit closest to Earth is called perigee. This will occur on May 18 at 1:28am when the Moon will be a mere 360,298km away from us. The point farthest from Earth is known as apogee, this will occur on May 5, at 10:46pm being 406,192 km away.

Planets in May

Mercury will be low in the early western evening skyline for most of the month before moving into inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 22nd. This means that it will be located between the Earth and the Sun. You may catch a glimpse of the planet early in May if you have an excellent horizon This innermost world is only visible low in the twilight glow during this poor dusk apparition. But may pose a bit of a challenge. The best opportunity for evening observation this year will be from mid-August to early September. At the end of the month, after inferior conjunction, Mercury returns to the morning dawn.

Mercury’s mean distance from the sun is about 0.39 times Earth’s distance from the sun. In this image we are looking down from the north side of the solar system plane, in which case Mercury and Earth circle the sun in a counter clockwise direction.

Venus and Jupiter provide a spectacular display on the 1st when the pair are separated by just 0.2° in the morning eastern sky, fitting easily into the same binocular field. (Your little finger when held at in front of you covers ½ degree of sky so 0.2° is close!  Conjunctions of the two brightest planets are reasonably common, occurring roughly 13 months apart. This one, however, is quite close and will be most impressive viewed with the unaided eye or binoculars or a small telescope.

Venus and Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars as they appear in the Eastern sky in the early morning on May 1st.

Mars spends the first half of the month in Aquarius in the eastern morning sky before moving into Pisces. On the 18th and 19th, the Red Planet passes within 0.7° of Neptune. While not visible to the unaided eye, a pair of binoculars will readily show the duo, and a telescope will show the colour contrast between them. Neptune is bluish and of course Mars is more orange – well worth getting up to have a look at it. After this encounter with the eighth planet, Mars appears to move towards Jupiter, and from the 28th to the 31st, the two will be 1°or less apart. A very nice conjunction occurs on the 25th when the 24-day old waning crescent Moon, Mars, and Jupiter group together within a 6° circle.

Jupiter opens and ends the month in a rather spectacular fashion! On the 1st, Jupiter and Venus will be just 0.2°apart in the early
morning eastern sky just south or to the right of the Circle of Pisces asterism.  Jupiter will be at 2nd magnitude and Venus at 4th magnitude, so unless it is completely clouded there is no way you can miss them both! Doesn’t matter whether you are using binoculars a telescope or just the unaided eye. At month’s end, 28th to 31st the King of Planets will be within 1° of Mars.

Close up of Jupiter and Venus on 1st May at 5am AEST.

Rising in the morning eastern twilight sky and quite easy to see. It starts the month in Capricorn and then slips into Aquarius.

At the start of the month, it is in a line with Mercury and Saturn. On the 15th Jupiter is quite high above the north-eastern horizon an hour and a half before sunrise.

In either binoculars or a telescope Jupiter’s Moons are always interesting. Jupiter is now high enough to follow the moons dance.

Saturn rises in the east a little before midnight mid-month. On the 16th, the planet is at the point in its orbit known as its eastern quadrature, where the Sun-Earth Saturn angle is 90°. It is also the best time to view the maximum shadow of the planet’s globe cast onto the black of the rings, giving Saturn a 3-D appearance. The shadow will decrease in size as opposition approaches in August.

Uranus is in conjunction with the Sun on the 5th and reappears in the morning eastern dawn in Aries late this month.

Neptune begins the month in Aquarius before slipping over the boundary into Pisces. The planet is only visible in the morning eastern sky, rising around 2am mid-month. Both Neptune and Mars have a close encounter on the 18th and 19th.

Meteor Showers

Normally a small number of “sporadic” meteors can be seen each hour of a moonless night. Sporadics are likely to be seen in any part of the sky. During a shower, the number of meteors visible may increase considerably. The meteors will appear to originate from a small area of the sky, called the radiant. The spreading out from the radiant is a perspective effect due to the meteors travelling in parallel lines but as they approach the observer they appear to fan out. The shower is named after the constellation which contains the radiant. In general, the meteor trails do not start from the radiant, but a few degrees from it.

Eta-Aquarids

The eta-Aquaids are linked with Halley’s Comet and rank as one of the most popular of the Southern Hemisphere showers.

Visible from April 19 to May 28, they peak on the night of the 6th and the morning of the 7th. Their maximum rates of 40 or more will likely be seen before dawn, since the radiant in Aquarius reaches its highest altitude a little after sunrise.

This shower is characterized by the high percentage of persistent trains. They are very swift and are a striking yellow colour. The waxing crescent Moon sets before midnight around the peak, leaving morning observations free of lunar interference.

The Eta Aquariids is a strong shower when viewed from the southern tropics. From the equator northward, they usually only produce medium rates of 10-30 per hour just before dawn.

Activity is good for a week centred on the night of maximum activity. These are swift meteors that produce a high percentage of persistent trains, but few fireballs.

It is well worth getting out to observe the Eta Aquariids at around the time their radiant rises.

This gives the maximum amount of time to observe the shower before dawn, but in addition, those few meteors you observe when the radiant is sitting just above the horizon can be spectacular.

What’s in the Shop

Since the planets are putting on such a great display this month, why not grab an autographed copy of My Solar System Booklet – which provides loads of info on the Solar System plus some colouring in as well. Only $7.50 posted!

Clear skies until next month! Stay up to date on my Facebook page.

Donna
AKA the Astronomer


Donna the Astronomer

I am a keen astronomer lucky enough to live and work in Coonabarabran the Astronomy Capital of Australia! I am a ‘Drover’s Brat’ and discoverer of a couple of comets and asteroids. I operate Milroy Observatory and can show you how to best integrate dark sky experiences into your tourism, farm stay or AirBnB business.

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