LOOK UP! What To See in The May Night Skies
As technology and scientific advancements continue to progress, space exploration remains one of the most fascinating and exciting areas of research. From upcoming launches to sightings of celestial events, there is always something new to discover in the vastness of space. In this article, we will take a look at some of the major space events happening in May 2023.
The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower
The Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which occurs between April 15 and May 27 and reaches its peak on May 5-6, will offer a maximum rate of about 50 shooting stars per hour in clear skies. These speedy meteors travel at a speed of about 42 miles (67 kilometers) per second. Despite the fact that the moon will be fully illuminated during the shower’s peak, the Eta Aquarids are not to be missed because of the possibility of a significant outburst. This outburst could be caused by particles that were ejected from Comet Halley in 390 BC, and meteor rates could be more than twice the norm!
These pieces of space debris originate from the legendary Halley’s Comet, and the Eta Aquarid meteor shower is classified as a strong shower that is best viewed from the Southern Hemisphere or close to the equator. However, individuals in certain northern latitudes may also be able to observe them.
The Eta Aquarids can be seen most easily by people who are close to the equator. The meteors emanate from the constellation Aquarius, which is located in the southern sky – this means that the radiant of these shooting stars will appear lower on the horizon for those observing from the Northern Hemisphere and higher in the sky for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s best to get up at around 2:00 AM local time to see the Eta Aquarids, as these meteors cannot be observed after sunset because the radiant will not yet be visible. From 2:00 AM onwards, the rates of meteor sightings will continue to increase until dawn.
On the night of May 5-6, residents in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia will have the opportunity to witness a rare and visible penumbral lunar eclipse. This eclipse will begin at 15:14 GMT on May 5th and will reach its maximum at 17:22 GMT, lasting a total of 4 hours and 18 minutes.
Penumbral eclipses are some of the hardest eclipses to detect because they are the most subtle of lunar eclipses. Clear weather conditions and patience will be necessary to observe it. During a penumbral lunar eclipse, only the outermost layer of Earth’s shadow, known as penumbra, falls on the moon’s surface. This is because the Earth, Sun, and Moon must be aligned, but due to the Moon’s orbit inclination relative to the Earth’s orbit, they sometimes do not align precisely. Thus, only the outer and lightest portion of the Earth’s shadow falls on the Moon, creating a penumbral lunar eclipse.
Comets in May
In May, there are several comets that can be observed from the Southern Hemisphere. The first one is C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS), which can be seen in the evening until the middle of the month. Look for it high above the western horizon!
In addition, two comets will reach perihelion (the point in orbit at which it is closest to the sun) in May: C/2020 K1 (PANSTARRS) on May 9 and 237P/LINEAR on May 14. C/2020 K1 (PANSTARRS) is visible from southern latitudes only, while 237P/LINEAR is visible from both hemispheres, but Southern Hemisphere observers will have a better view as it will be at a higher altitude.
Launches in May
On May 17, the Crew Dragon spacecraft on Axiom Mission 2 will be launched to the International Space Station by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut, will be in command, and the pilot will be John Shoffner, a race car driver and air show pilot who paid for his seat. Two Saudi astronauts, Ali AlQarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, will also join the crew. The launch will take place from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and details on how to watch the launch live on Space.com will be released closer to the time. The launch is scheduled for 7:34 PM EDT.
On May 22, Arabsat’s Badr 8 communications satellite will be launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Finally, on May 24, the 84th Progress cargo delivery ship will be launched to the International Space Station by a Russian Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
May 2023 is set to be an exciting month for space enthusiasts with numerous launches and celestial events to look forward to. From the Axiom Mission 2 to the Badr 8 communications satellite launch, to lunar and comet sightings, there is something for everyone to enjoy. As we continue to explore the vast unknowns of space, each new discovery brings us closer to understanding the mysteries of the universe.
Dobrijevic, D. (2022, November 14). Space calendar 2023: Rocket Launches, skywatching events, Missions & More! Space.com. Retrieved April 30, 2023, from https://www.space.com/39469-best-meteor-showers.html
Dobrijevic, D. (2022, October 10). Meteor Showers 2023: Where, when and how to see them. Space.com. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.space.com/39469-best-meteor-showers.html
Vito Technology, Inc. (2023, April 29). Celestial events in May 2023: Comets, Meteor Showers, planets. Star Walk. Retrieved April 30, 2023, from https://starwalk.space/en/news/night-sky-tonight-may