Astronomy events for May 2012

SkyCaramba weekly astronomy blog for the week ending May 5, 2012 

Astronomy events of May 2012 

As May evenings begin, Orion is setting with Gemini right behind it. Venus shines brightly nearby. Leo and Virgo straddle the meridian. Mars is just below Leo. Saturn is in Ophiuchus which is rising after sundown along with Hercules and Libra. By the time Saturn is setting, the Great Square of Pegasus is rising and to the south is the teapot of Sagittarius and the J-hook of Scorpio. 

Venus drops lower into the sunset for northern hemisphere observers as May progresses. A thin crescent moon passes by it on the 22nd. We won’t get to enjoy this spectacle, but if we could be on Saturn on the 6th, we’d see Venus cross right in front of the sun. Fortunately, some of us will be able to watch the same thing happen right here from Earth in another month. 

Venus is actually in direct motion (moving eastward) until the 15th. But to people in the northern hemisphere, it appears to be dropping farther down before it becomes visible because the sun’s setting later each evening. When retrograde (westward) motion begins, Venus will seem to zoom even faster toward the sunset. 

A gibbous moon is south and slightly east of Mars on the 1st. The red planet moves eastward away from bright Regulus this month and is visited by the moon again on the 28th

A nearly full moon passes south of Saturn on the 4th. Saturn is moving slowly westward north of Spica all month. On the 6th, we see the closest and biggest full moon of the year. 

We aren’t expecting much of a show from the Eta Aquarid meteors this year. The peak is around the time of the full moon. But maybe a few bright ones will be seen. 

Mercury starts May in the morning sky in the sun’s glare for northern observers. However, southern hemisphere skywatchers might be able to see it every morning for the first half of the month. Mercury’s in conjunction with the sun on the 27th

Jupiter is in conjunction on the 13th and will spend May too close to the sun to see. 

The moon will pass in front of the sun on the 20th. The moon will be too close to the earth to completely block the view. People along a path from southeast China, across southern Japan and the northern Pacific Ocean, to the western United States will see an annular solar eclipse. The sun’s disk will shine in a ring around the moon’s disk. This is the newest moon you get to see. But don’t look at it without eye protection. 

If you don’t live along the path of annularity, maybe you’ll enjoy a partial solar eclipse. Or you can try a planetarium program on your computer to simulate it. You could even watch the eclipse on the internet.