Starry and stunning skies lie ahead for May : When and what to look out for thanks to Beckington Astronomical Society

  Posted: 30.04.21 at 14:12 by The Editor

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Another busy month lies ahead with plenty to look for in the night sky. Many of you will have seen the fantastic images of this week’s “supermoon”. On 26th May the brightest and largest super moon of the year appears, providing another great opportunity to capture images of our nearest neighbour.

In the meantime please enjoy these three spectacular images taken by our Society Secretary, Sandy Whitton.

The term “supermoon” has its origins in astrology but, according to the Royal Observatory, now has a strict definition within astronomy. If the Moon is within 10 per cent of its closest distance to Earth at the moment of full moon, it is considered to be a supermoon.

The full moon in May is known by various names in different parts of the world. The Flower Moon, Corn Planting Moon and Milk Moon are three such names.

The Moon also is worth looking for on other dates in May. The new Moon occurs on the 12th and on the 13th a very thin crescent Moon will appear close to Mercury. The clair-obscur effects known as the Lunar X and V will be visible on the terminator (the line between light and dark on the Moon’s surface) between 00.00 (Midnight) and 00.45 AM on the 19th.

Earlier in the month Venus and Mercury are the main attractions. On 4th May, Mercury will be visible above the north west horizon 30 minutes after sunset. The easy way to find it is to identify Venus first which will be the bright “star” (-3.8 mag) low above the horizon. Mercury will be 6.3° above and slightly left of Venus. 1° is approximately the width of an adult finger at arms length, 5° is approximately the width of your fist at arms length. Another good viewing opportunity will be on the 17th when Mercury is at its greatest eastern elongation or maximum angular separation, from the sun. Again look low in the north west, 40 minutes after sunset.

Society Secretary, Sandy Whitton has captured something incredible

On the 6th May early risers will be able to see the Eta Aquariid meteor shower from 02.30 BST until morning twilight. This is a moderately active shower, associated with Halley’s comet. The radiant (the point from which the meteors appear to emanate) will be low in the Eastern sky.

Two stars to look out for this month are Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo and Spica, similarly the brightest star in Virgo.

Regulus will be 4° below the Moon in the evening sky on 19th May. It is a brilliant blue-white star that is actually a multiple star system of at least four component stars. You can find it at the base of a backwards question mark that forms the head of the constellation of Leo.

Spica will be found below and to the right of the Moon on the 23rd. Again this is a double star with two stars orbiting a common centre of gravity.

For our younger astronomers finding each of these stars will also allow them to identify the constellations that they are within. Images are provided above to help with identification. Spica is at the bottom right of the “body” of Virgo.

A supermoon is officially when the moon is within 10 per cent of its closest distance to earth. Image : Sandy Whitton.

Thanks for reading our preview of May’s night sky. We are looking forward to our Society returning to normal operation in the autumn and ask you to continue to look at our website for information on when we can welcome members back to our meetings.

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