May 2024 Astronomy Calendar: Meteor Showers, Comets, and Planetary Phenomena

1st May 2024
May 2024 Astronomy Calendar: Meteor Showers, Comets, and Planetary Phenomena

Welcome to the cosmic spectacle of May! This month, the night sky unfolds like a grand theatre, captivating stargazers with an enthralling lineup of celestial events. Saturn takes centre stage as it briefly plays hide-and-seek behind the Moon, a meteor shower graces the heavens, and the Full Flower Moon rises. What else can you see in the sky in May? Discover all the events below.

4-6th May: Peak of Eta-Aquariids’ Meteor Shower

Eta-Aquariids' Meteor Shower

The Eta Aquariid meteor shower is set to grace the skies till 28 May 2024, with its peak expected between midnight and dawn on 4-6 May. Primarily favouring observers in the Southern Hemisphere, this shower will present itself low in the sky for those in northerly latitudes, such as the UK, during the early predawn hours. You will be able to see about 50 meteors an hour.

As is customary with meteor showers, the name is derived from the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate, in this instance, the Aquarius constellation. However, rather than being labelled the ‘Aquarid’ meteor shower, it takes its name from one of the stars within this constellation: Eta Aquarii.

The Eta Aquariids is one of two meteor showers generated by debris from Comet Halley. Despite their dazzling appearance, these streaks across the night sky can be caused by particles as minuscule as a grain of sand.

9 May – Mercury At the Greatest Western (Morning) Elongation

Mercury achieves its maximum western elongation, extending 26.4 degrees from the Sun, presenting an optimal viewing opportunity. At this juncture, Mercury ascends to its highest position above the horizon in the morning sky, making it particularly conspicuous to observers. To locate the planet, cast your gaze towards the eastern sky, where Mercury will be situated low on the horizon, shortly before the onset of sunrise.

23 May – Full Flower Moon

Full Flower Moon

During the Full Moon phase, which occurs at 13:55 UTC, the Moon will be positioned directly opposite the Earth from the Sun, presenting its fully illuminated face to sky gazers. Early Native American tribes named this Full Moon the Flower Moon due to the abundance of spring flowers that typically bloom during this time of year. It has also been referred to as the Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon in various cultural traditions. On that day, you can see it too.

Planets to Witness in the Sky

In May 2024, skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere can enjoy several planetary sightings during the early morning hours. At the beginning to the middle of the month, Mercury (with a magnitude of 0.2) will be visible in the northeast sky. Towards the month’s end, observers can spot Mars (with a magnitude of 1.1) and Saturn (with a magnitude of 1.2), located towards the eastern horizon during the morning hours.

For those equipped with binoculars or a telescope, a closer examination of Neptune (with a magnitude of 7.9) can be achieved by scanning the eastern horizon during the morning. However, Venus, Jupiter, and Uranus will remain too close to the Sun to be visible throughout the month.

Comets in May 2024

Upcoming Comets Schedule
Credit: Vito Technology, Inc.

This month, comet enthusiasts have a few celestial treats to anticipate. The once-prominent comet Pons-Brooks, which graced the skies of the Northern Hemisphere until April, is now making its appearance in the Southern Hemisphere, albeit low above the horizon. Having passed its closest point to the Sun (perihelion) on April 21, the comet is gradually waning, with an expected magnitude of about 5 throughout May. To catch a glimpse of this comet, direct your gaze towards the western horizon in the evening, approximately an hour after sunset.

Meanwhile, the periodic comet 13P/Olbers is steadily approaching its perihelion on June 30, 2024. With astronomers anticipating a brightness of about 7 around this time, the comet will exhibit a visual magnitude between 8 and 9 throughout May, visible from the Northern Hemisphere. Though faint, observers can spot 13P/Olbers low above the northwestern horizon in the evening, requiring medium-sized binoculars or a small telescope for optimal viewing.

For experienced stargazers, there’s the potential standout comet of 2024, C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS). Expected to achieve exceptional brightness, this comet may become visible to the naked eye from the Northern Hemisphere in September and October. Presently boasting a magnitude of 10, it can be observed rising above the horizon in the evening, although large binoculars or a small telescope are necessary for its current visibility stage.

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