A sprin­kle of bright me­te­ors across the May skies

Things are look­ing up for May 1-14

Truro Daily News - - COLCHESTER COUNTY - Glenn Roberts

With the warmer spring weather fi­nally upon us, it’s a good time to get out un­der the night sky to ob­serve its many won­ders.

May’s first week­end brings with it a fa­mous, though not pro­lific, me­teor shower. The Eta Aquari­ids (ra­di­ant in Aquarius – the Wa­ter Bearer con­stel­la­tion) peak in the predawn hours of Sun­day, May 5. The Aquari­ids are usu­ally active from about April 19 to May 28. They don’t have a sharp peak of only a few hours as do most me­teor show­ers, they rather tend to have a broad max­i­mum pe­riod of about a week cen­tred on May 5.

Weather per­mit­ting, you can ac­tu­ally watch for the Aquari­ids a few nights/morn­ings be­fore and after the May 5.

The Eta Aquari­ids (named for the bright star Eta in the Aquarius con­stel­la­tion) are one of only two me­teor show­ers as­so­ci­ated with the fa­mous Hal­ley’s Comet, the other be­ing the Ori­on­ids in Oc­to­ber. Ev­ery year, in early May, Earth passes through the de­bris stream left by Hal­ley’s pas­sage around the sun, with the shower be­ing more in­tense (nu­mer­ous) some years, as Earth passes through denser sec­tions of the stream. Ex­pect about 20 to 30 bright me­te­ors per hour dur­ing the peak, predawn hours when the ra­di­ant is high­est in the eastern sky. The moon will be new on May 4, so there will be no is­sue with moon­light in­ter­fer­ence; best views will come un­der a dark sky, away from city lights.

Mars, though small, con­tin­ues to shine brightly at mag. +1.7 above the south­west hori­zon shortly after sun­set. Jupiter rises in the eastern sky around 11 p.m. in early May but doesn’t get very high in the south­east­ern sky be­fore dawn be­gins to brighten that part of the sky. Saturn joins Jupiter in the south­east­ern sky around mid­night but, like its big­ger si­b­ling, it doesn’t clear the murky, lower at­mos­phere enough be­fore dawn to give a very good view.

Venus and Mer­cury are very close to this this month and af­ford only brief op­por­tu­ni­ties for view­ing. Mer­cury will be vis­i­ble very low above the eastern hori­zon, shortly be­fore sun­rise un­til around May 7. After that date, it will be lost from sight in the glow of the ris­ing sun, as it heads to­ward its su­pe­rior con­junc­tion (pass­ing be­hind the sun as seen from Earth) ren­dezvous with the sun on May 21. Like­wise, Venus (mag. –3.8) is slowly draw­ing closer to the sun in its or­bital jour­ney and is vis­i­ble only for a brief pe­riod above the eastern hori­zon be­fore be­ing lost in the ris­ing sun’s glow.

The lat­ter half of May holds an in­ter­est­ing phe­nom­e­non.

Un­til next time, clear skies.

Glenn K. Roberts lives in Strat­ford, P.E.I., and has been an avid am­a­teur as­tronomer since he was a small child. His col­umn, At­lantic Skies, ap­pears ev­ery two weeks. He wel­comes com­ments from read­ers, and anyone who would like to do so is en­cour­aged to email him at glennkrobe­rts@gmail.com.

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