That giant sigh you just heard? The collective relief of the Northern Hemisphere that spring with all its beauty, sounds and smells is mercifully, 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 is not as heavy with events from the celestial calendar 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 6)
A composite of three nights of the Eta Aquarids meteor shower over Devil's Tower. (Photo: David Kingham/flickr)
Peaking on the evening of 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. Those with dark skies can expect to see about 30 meteors per hour.
The neat thing about the Aquarid shower is that its actually made up of icy debris left over from visits by Halley's Comet. Because the current orbit of Halley does not close pass enough by Earth to produce meteor showers, the Aquarids are remnants leftover from a closer orbit from hundreds of years ago.
The Flower Moon (May 10)
The full 'Flower Moon' will arrive on May 10th. (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, April's full moon will reach its peak on the morning of May 10 at 5:42 p.m. ET.
Catch Jupiter's Great Red Spot (May 11)
While not quite as large in the night sky as in April, 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, May 11 offers a particular good viewing of about four hours starting at 8:30 p.m.
Get an eyeful of Mercury (May 17)
The planet Mercury will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky on May 17. (Photo: Stuart Rankin/flickr)
Mercury will reach its greatest western elongation away from the Sun on May 17. To spot it, wake before dawn and look for Venus blazing in the sky. Mercury will appear just below Venus and near the horizon.
The new moon supermoon (May 25)
Far from city lights, a new moon offers the perfect dark sky conditions to stargaze. (Photo: Bryce Bradford/flickr)
In addition to creating ideal conditions for stargazing, the new moon on May 25 also will mark the closest lunar approach of the year. Called perigee, the new moon will sit at a distance of 222,500 miles from Earth. According to EarthSky, this marks the first time since 2009 that the new moon, and not a full moon, coincides with the year's closest perigee.
Cassini enters the D-ring (May 28)
Okay, so this isn't actually one you'll be able to watch from home, but it's too cool not to include here. On May 28, the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn will begin its sixth plunge (out of a planned 22) through Saturn's rings. What's significant about this particular dive is that it will involve Saturn's innermost ring, called the D-ring.
“One of the things we can do with the rings is, in the grand finale orbits, for the first time address the question of the origin and the age of the rings,” mission project specialist Linda Spilker told Astronomy Now. “We’ll do this by measuring the mass of the rings very accurately."
During this descent, Cassini will be shielded from the particles that make up the rings by its high-gain antennae. The dives are allowed to enable Cassini, should it survive, to analyze the content of the rings, as well as take close-up images of Saturn's atmosphere.
All of these maneuvers will ultimately lead to Cassini's demise on September 12 when it plunge's into Saturn's atmosphere. You can learn more about that dramatic finale, as well as all of our Cassini highlights, in our roundup here.
SpaceX launch to ISS (May 31)
SpaceX will launch a supply mission to the International Space Station on May 31. (Photo: Penn State/flickr)
SpaceX will launch its twelfth Dragon/Falcon 9 flight to the International Space Station on May 31. The cargo slated to be delivered includes NASA's Advanced Plant Habitat, an experimental plant-growing habitat developed to advance knowledge of "space farming" techniques. The Falcon 9 will be launched from Cape Canaveral and will once again feature a (fingers crossed) landing by SpaceX's reusable rockets.