May 2023 brings a range of astronomical events that will capture the imagination of both casual stargazers and dedicated astronomers. From Mercury’s solar conjunction to close encounters of the Moon with various planets, the night sky will be filled with breathtaking sights. This article highlights the key celestial events occurring this month.
η – Aquariids Meteor Shower
The η-Aquariid Meteor Shower, produced by the debris of Comet Halley, is a major meteor shower that will be observed from April 19 to May 28, with its peak of activity occurring on May 6. This meteor shower may produce about 40 meteors per hour in a very dark and cloudless condition. The radiant of the meteor shower, constellation Aquarius, will rise on the eastern horizon at around 1:32 a.m. η-Aquariids is best observed shortly before dawn when their radiant is at its highest point in the sky.
η – Lyrids Meteor Shower
Another meteor shower that can be seen in May is called η-Lyrids, which is active from May 3–14, with its peak activity occurring on May 9, producing up to 3 meteors per hour. The parent body responsible for η-Lyrids is a comet named C/1983 H1 (IRAS-Araki-Alcock). The radiant of the meteor shower, constellation Lyra, will rise over the eastern horizon at around 8:56 p.m. The finest shower display for observing η-Lyrids occurs around 4:00 a.m., when the radiant is at its highest point in the sky. This can be observed just before daybreak.
Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
A Penumbral Lunar Eclipse will occur on May 5–6, 2023. The Moon will pass through 95% of the penumbral shadow and cause a minor darkening of the lunar surface. In the Philippine setting, the Moon will pass through the Earth’s penumbral shadow between 11:12 P.M. on May 5 and 3:34 A.M. on May 6. The Penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible in any location where the Moon is above the horizon, including Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and Antarctica.
Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are safe to watch and do not require the use of any kind of protective filter for the eyes. A pair of binoculars may also be used to help magnify the view.
Other Celestial Events
In May, Mercury will not be observable in the evening sky at the beginning of the month due to its proximity to the Sun. On May 2, Mercury will reach inferior solar conjunction and will be in close approach to the Sun. This happens every synodic cycle of the planet or approximately every 115 days. Mercury will appear at a separation of only 0°42’ from the Sun, making it completely invisible for several weeks due to the glare of the Sun.
However, it will be visible at the end of the month, first appearing as a morning planet above the eastern horizon, then disappearing from view as dawn approaches. On May 29, Mercury will reach its greatest separation from the Sun known as the greatest elongation west. With a magnitude of 0.4, the planet will only be observable during twilight and will be difficult to observe during its thin crescent phase.
Venus and Mars are early evening planets, visible in the western sky after sunset and disappearing below the horizon at about 10:46 p.m. and 9:29 p.m., respectively. On May 23, the waxing crescent Moon and Venus will be in conjunction, with the Moon passing at 2°12’ to the north of Venus. The two objects will also make a close approach and will be located in the constellation Gemini. The pairing of these two events will be widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.
Jupiter and Saturn will be visible in the morning sky at dawn for the entire month, fading from view at the western horizon as dawn breaks at around 5:00 a.m. Saturn and the waning crescent Moon will be in conjunction, as well as close approach on May 13. Both located in the constellation Aquarius, the Moon and Saturn will be sharing the same right ascension at 3°17” and will be visible in Quezon City at 1:15 a.m. The magnitude of the Moon and Saturn are -11.7 and 0.8, respectively.
May 2023 is an exciting month for skywatchers in the Philippines, offering something for everyone. From meteor showers to close encounters between the Moon and various planets, and even a penumbral lunar eclipse, the night sky will be filled with captivating sights. These events provide not only great opportunities for observation and photography but also a chance to appreciate the vastness and beauty of our universe. So, grab your telescope or binoculars, head to a dark location away from city lights, and enjoy the cosmic wonders unfolding above you throughout the month of May 2023.