May 2022

Welcome to SkyEye, your guide to this month's celestial events.

The Calendar

This month's Full Moon is totally eclipsed on 16 May. Saturn at quadrature always makes for an interesting telescopic target. A rare meteor storm may occur at the end of the month when the Earth passes through remnants of Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3.

The phases of the Moon in May 2022

Date Body Event
1 Moon, Uranus lunar occultation of Uranus
Moon ascending node
2 Moon, Mercury 1.8° apart
5 Uranus conjunction
Moon apogee
6 Earth η Aquariid meteor shower
9 Moon first quarter
11 Mercury stationary in right ascension: direct → retrograde
15 Venus aphelion
Saturn west quadrature
Moon descending node
16 Earth, Moon total lunar eclipse
Moon full
17 Mercury descending node
Moon perigee
Mars, Neptune planetary conjunction: 0.5° apart
21 Mercury inferior conjunction
22 Moon last quarter
27 Moon, Venus lunar occultation of Venus: visible from southern Madagascar
Mercury aphelion
28 Moon, Uranus lunar occultation of Uranus
29 Moon ascending node
Mars, Jupiter planetary conjunction: 0.6° apart
30 Moon new
Saturn maxiumum declination north
31 Earth τ Herculid meteor shower: possible meteor storm

The Solar System

The word planet is derived from the Greek word for 'wanderer'. Unlike the background stars, planets seem to move around the sky, keeping mostly to a narrow track called the ecliptic, the path of the Sun across the stars. Dwarf planets and small solar-system bodies, including comets, are not so constrained, often moving far above or below the ecliptic.

The position of the Sun and planets at mid-month

Sun AriesTaurus

Mercury Taurus

Mercury concludes its evening apparition this month, moving into retrograde motion on 11 May ahead of its inferior conjunction ten days later. It then embarks upon its next morning appearance. The tiny planet reaches another aphelion on 27 May.

Venus PiscesCetusPiscesAries

Venus reaches aphelion, the point in its orbit when its farthest from the Sun, on 15 May. The waning crescent Moon occults the morning star on 27 May. Visible from southern Madagascar and parts of the Indian Ocean, the occultation begins around 00:30 UT. Venus remains quite low to the eastern horizon for early risers in northern latitudes but is high in the sky before sunrise for astronomers in the southern hemisphere.

Earth and Moon

The nearly New Moon occults Uranus twice this month, on 1 May and again on 28 May. Dark skies enhance viewing of the η Aquariids early in the month and a total lunar eclipse takes place on 16 May. The almost unknown τ Herculid meteor shower may make a surprise appearance at the end of the month. Peak activity is theorised to occur at 05:00 UT on 31 May, favouring observers in the Americas. The radiant of the shower should be approximately 6° north-northwest of Arcturus in the constellation of Boötes. However, it is unknown whether the debris trail left by Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 will actually intersect Earth's orbit.

Mars AquariusPisces

Mars called upon Saturn last month; this month it moves past a much-fainter Neptune (18 May) and a much-brighter Jupiter (29 May). All of these encounters occur after midnight, with southern hemisphere planet watchers getting much the best views in dark skies.

Jupiter Pisces

Jupiter and Mars are just over half a degree apart late in the month, with Jupiter the far brighter object (magnitude −2.2 versus first-magnitude Mars). The best views of this planet are from the southern hemisphere where it rises just after midnight and is well-aloft by sunrise.

Saturn Capricornus

Saturn remains a morning sky object as seen from northern temperate latitudes but rises in the late evening for observers in the southern hemisphere. This is the place to be to observe Saturn telescopically mid-month when it reaches west quadrature. At 90° away from the Sun, the shadows of the planet, rings and satellites are noticeably cast to one side.

Uranus Aries

Uranus is at conjunction this month and is lost in the glare of the Sun. Both of the lunar occultations this month occur during daylight hours.

Neptune AquariusPisces

A small telescope is necessary to view the most distant planet in the solar system. Neptune is visible in the morning sky, well aloft for southern hemisphere observers (it passes into the evening sky late in the month) but remains mired in dawn twilight for planet watchers farther north. Mars pays a visit mid-May.

The Celestial Sphere

Constellations are patterns of stars in the sky. The International Astronomical Union recognises 88 different constellations. The brightest stars as seen from the Earth are easy to spot but do you know their proper names? With a set of binoculars you can look for fainter objects such as nebulae and galaxies and star clusters or some of the closest stars to the Sun.

Descriptions of the sky for observers in both the northern and southern hemispheres are available for the following times this month. Subtract one hour from your local time if summer (daylight savings) time is in effect.

Local Time Mid-month Northern Hemisphere Equator Southern Hemisphere
1730 hours (1830 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
1930 hours (2030 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
2130 hours (2230 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
2330 hours (0030 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
0130 hours (0230 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
0330 hours (0430 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
0530 hours (0630 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S