That giant sigh you just heard? The collective relief of the Northern Hemisphere that spring with all its beauty, sounds and smells is finally here. It's also the perfect time for stargazers to throw on little more than a sweatshirt and enjoy warmer evenings of looking up into the heavens.
While May isn't as heavy with celestial events as other months, there are a few highlights worth circling. Below are some to keep in mind as we move ever-closer to the summer season. Wishing you clear evenings!
Eta Aquarid meteor shower (May 5)
A composite of three nights of the Eta Aquarids meteor shower over Devil's Tower. (Photo: David Kingham/flickr)
Peaking at dawn on May 5 through the early morning hours of May 6, the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower is one of the more reliable shooting star events of the year. Observers near the equator through the Southern Hemisphere will have the best views, with the meteors appearing to radiate from the star Eta Aquarii in the constellation Aquarius. A waning gibbous moon will have some impact, but it's possible some of the more spectacular Aquarids will prevail, giving viewers a chance to spot perhaps as many as 30 meteors per hour.
The neat thing about the Aquarid shower is that it's made up of icy debris left over from visits by Halley's Comet. Because the current orbit of Halley doesn't close pass enough by Earth to produce meteor showers, the Aquarids are remnants leftover from a closer orbit from hundreds of years ago.
SpaceX finally rolls out Block 5 (May 7)
The final revision of the Falcon 9, the workhorse of the SpaceX fleet, will receive its first commercial test early this month. Called Block 5, the upgrade will improve thrust and optimize the performance and stability of the booster's landing legs. The new variant will also move SpaceX further along in its journey to create a fully reusable rocket system, allowing boosters to be reused up to 10 times with only inspections in-between flights and up to 100 times with refurbishment.
"The design intent is that the rocket can be reflown with zero hardware changes," Musk said last spring. "In other words, the only thing you change is you reload the propellant."
For those who've never watched a SpaceX launch before, part of the excitement in viewing the company's livestreams is witnessing not only liftoff, but also the dramatic reentry and landing of the Falcon 9 booster. Thanks to cameras on the ground and on the rocket itself, the missions offer an up-close (and sometimes historic) view of spaceflight. (MNN has been picking up these livestreams on affiliated Facebook pages.)
Catch Jupiter's Great Red Spot (May 9)
The planet Jupiter will continue to dominate the heavens for much of May. This makes it the perfect target for even astronomers with small telescopes to pick out and marvel at its beauty. While the planet's iconic Great Red Spot will be easy to spot on several evenings throughout the month, conditions on May 9 will offer a particularly good view. On that date, Jupiter will be at opposition with Earth, coming within 409 million miles of backyard telescopes. Look for the planet to rise just after nightfall and be visible all evening at a magnitude brightness of -2.4.
Enjoy dark skies with the new moon (May 15)
Far from city lights, a new moon offers the perfect dark sky conditions to stargaze. (Photo: Bryce Bradford/flickr)
The new moon will arrive on May 15, bringing with it dark skies perfect for picking out galaxy clusters like Omega Centarui (thought to contain some 10 million stars) or the Virgo Cluster (estimated to contain as many as 2,000 galaxies).
The Flower Moon (May 29)
The full 'Flower Moon' will arrive on May 10. (Photo: Jamie Wang/flickr)
Like all the other awesome monthly full moon nicknames we've come to know recently (Frost Moon, Wolf Moon, Worm Moon), April's Flower Moon is reflective of what's happening on the ground in the Northern Hemisphere. This month's full moon was also known by Native Americans as the Mother's Moon, the Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon.
Whatever you want to call it, this month's full moon will reach its peak on the morning of May 29 at 10:19 a.m. ET.