Well, round it comes again – the last month of the Earth’s orbit round the Sun when we have at least some astronomical darkness, although it is not fully dark until almost midnight even at the start of the month. By the 10th of May, at our latitude that’s your lot until 1am on the 3rd of August.
Bu there’s plenty to see in the night sky, even when it’s still a bit on the light side. Planets and more planets…
Mercury, our solar system neighbour that is closest to the Sun, reaches its furthest eastern elongation on the 7th of May. That means it will be 16° above the horizon at sunset, and will take another 2 hours to follow the Sun to the western horizon. It will be illuminated as a 35% crescent, shining at a pretty strong +0.5 magnitude – brighter than most stars in the night sky.
Venus is in Taurus at the start of the month, then moving into Gemini and finally into Cancer by the end. What does this mean? Only that it will be a magnificent sight in the west after sunset, outshining everything else at magnitude -4 or better.
Saturn rises after 11pm at the start of May, and should clear most local horizons by midnight. If you have never seen Saturn through a pair of binoculars or even a small telescope, do yourself a big favour and join the Eddington Astronomical Society’s Planet Watch at Kendal Castle from 9.30pm on Thursday the 7th. Stretch your legs and take a breath of fresh air before the longest night of the year – if you’re keen on politics! Saturn reaches magnitude 0.0 at opposition (a bit like when the Moon is full) on the 23rd, so this month is a great opportunity to view this extraordinary planet.
The mighty Jupiter is in Cancer all month, and being fast approached by Venus at the month end. Look out for their apparent near collision in June – more of that later next month.
Comet at Polaris
I have spent many hours this year taking photos of the glorious comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), which is now fading from view. As it makes its way out of the solar system, it passes by the Pole Star on the 28th of May. One last photo opportunity, I reckon.