What’s Up in SW Florida’s May Skies

May 4 – 7 predawn – Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower. The Eta Aquarid shower is “above average”: it might produce up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. The radiant (origination direction) of the shower doesn’t get too high in our sky, but we have one of the best views in the continental USA of this southerly shower. It is produced by dust particles left behind by comet Halley, which was known and observed since ancient times, but finally identified as a single returning comet with a 75-year period by Edmund Halley in 1705: he predicted successfully, but did not live to see, the 1759 return of the comet. When it showed up right on time, people named the comet after him. Comet Halley last appeared in the inner parts of the Solar System in 1986 and it will next appear in mid-2061. The shower runs annually from April 19 to May 28. It peaks this year on the night of May 6 and the morning of the May 7. The thin waxing crescent moon will set early in the evening, leaving a nice dark sky for what should be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location, facing ESE around 5 am (earlier is OK, but at 4 am the radiant is less than 15 degrees above horizon: much higher at 5, and higher still at 6, but the growing sky brightness by 6 am will start to kill your chances of seeing meteors). Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

May 6th sunset: a beautiful scene awaits, if your western horizon is clear at sunset! The very thin crescent moon (just two days after New Moon) will appear beside the bright orange star Aldebaran (a red giant that serves as the eye of Taurus the Bull), and directly above the V-shape of the Hyades star cluster (the “face” of Taurus). Below and to the right of this, the lovely tiny dipper-shape of the Pleiades star cluster is visible. Look West-NW after sunset for this inspiring arrangement of astronomical “beauty” objects! Yes, the planet Mars is above this tableau, as well.

Moon Phases: May 2019

4 – New Moon 12 – First Quarter 18 – Full Moon 26 – Last Quarter

In the Planetarium, we are showing not only special Kid’s Shows on the weekends at 11:15, but our daily noon offering is the new ESO full-dome “Europe to the Stars” show. See the Florida premiere of this show, and catch up on what the European Southern Observatories have been doing lately!

— Heather Preston, Planetarium Director