Get outside with your telescope on clear May evenings to see celestial treats! With weather warming up and skies clearing up, there's no shortage of celestial delicacies to view with telescopes and binoculars. Here are a few of Orion's top suggestions for May observing:
Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower - Grab a blanket or a comfy lounge chair to sit back, relax and watch the Eta Aquarids meteor shower, which peaks after midnight on May 5th into the early morning hours of May 6th. The waxing gibbous Moon might outshine some of fainter meteors, but there will still be opportunities see Eta Aquarid meteors streak across the night sky at the approximate peak rate of 40 per hour. Look for meteors appearing to radiate from the constellation Aquarius.
Jupiter High in the Sky - Gigantic Jupiter will be well-placed for telescopic study throughout the month of May. Look for the bright planet well above the eastern horizon at nightfall as it lingers in the constellation Virgo. Check in on Jupiter often to see its four brightest moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) change positions night to night as they dance around the gas giant planet. On May 7th, Jupiter will appear close to the waxing Moon, making a pretty pairing in the sky you can enjoy with wide-field [binoculars] or a low-power, wide-angle telescope [eyepiece].
Four Big Planetary Nebulas - Use a 6" or larger telescope and an [Oxygen-III or UltraBlock filter] to catch nice views of four relatively large planetary nebulas in May skies. See the "Ghost of Jupiter," NGC 3242 in Hydra; M97, "the Owl Nebula" in the Big Dipper; NGC 4361 in Corvus, and the famous "Ring Nebula", M57 in Lyra just a few degrees from bright star Vega.
Mercury Before Dawn - Before sunrise on May 18, tiny planet Mercury will be at its greatest western elongation. This means Mercury will reach its highest point in the pre-dawn sky. Once the Sun comes up, Mercury will become hard to spot, so look above the eastern horizon just before sunrise to catch the small and elusive planet.
Saturn's Nighttime Debut - It's worth staying up late in early May for the first nighttime views of Saturn and its glorious rings. In early May, Saturn will rise above the southeastern horizon around midnight, but by May 20th the distant gas giant planet will rise around 10pm PT. Use a [telescope] and a high-power eyepiece to see Saturn and its intricate structure of rings. Set a reminder to get outside late at night on May 13th and 14th to see Saturn appear very close to the waning gibbous Moon. A great sight to behold in big binoculars, a wide-field telescope, or even with unaided eyes!
Five Glittering Globulars - Five picture-perfect examples of globular star clusters will be visible in May skies. Check out M3 in the constellation Bo÷tes. M13, the "Great Cluster in Hercules" will be visible near the zenith. M5 can be found in Serpens, and M92 in the northern section of Hercules. Be sure to track down M4 (NGC 6121) in Scorpius on May 27th, as it will be in a great position for telescopic study throughout the night, reaching zenith around midnight. Big [telescopes] will provide the best views, but even a pair of humble 50mm or larger [binoculars] will show you these dense balls of stars from a dark sky site.
Four Face-On Spirals - Use a large [telescope] to see the classic pinwheel shapes of galaxies M51 and M101 in the Big Dipper asterism of Ursa Major, and M99 and M100 in the Virgo galaxy cluster. There are also dozens of additional galaxies to explore in the Virgo cluster with a large aperture telescope.
May's Challenge Object - May skies present some of the best opportunities to grab a view of Omega Centauri - the brightest globular star cluster in the sky! While it's big and bright, even visible as a "fuzzy" star in binoculars, the challenge Omega Centauri presents is its low position in southern skies, which can make it unobservable from higher northern latitudes.