What to expect in May’s night skies

Ancient fragments of Halley’s Comet will light up the sky this week, one of the meteoric highlights for avid stargazers in 2021.

University of Souther Queensland Astrophysicist Professor Jonti Horner said the famous comet had left behind a trail of debris along its orbit around the Sun for tens of thousands of years.

“Earth passes through that debris twice a year, with the Eta Aquariids the better of the two meteor showers that result,” he said.

“Keep an eye out for this before sunrise on each morning between May 3 and 10 – they will be fast meteors and are often bright, with smoky trains.”

Professor Horner said those who braved the pre-dawn hours to observe the Eta Aquariids would have the chance to lie beneath a spectacular sky.

“The Milky Way will be high overhead, with Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon high to the east and bright, fast meteors streaking across the sky from an origin near the eastern horizon.

“While not one of the big three, Eta Aquariids stand clear as the best of the rest of the annual showers, yielding a fine display in the two or three hours before dawn.”

In addition to the Eta Aquariids light show, there’s plenty of astronomical activity to get excited about, and you don’t need a high-tech telescope to get the full experience.

“We’ll get a good view of Mercury later in the month as the planet reaches greatest eastern elongation, meaning that’s a good time to look for the innermost planet on the evening of May 17, and for a week or so around then,” Mr Horner said.

“Also, get ready for a Super Blood Moon – a clash of two lunar phenomena – on May 26.

“A ‘super’ Moon is a full Moon that occurs at the same time that our satellite is at its closest point to the Earth, while a ‘blood’ Moon describes a total lunar eclipse, when the Moon passes deep into the shadow cast by the Earth.”

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