April showers bring…May celestial events. At least that’s the case this month when there are several occasions worth packing up the car with lounge chairs, a telescope or binoculars, and a few snacks and heading out in search of dark skies. By T+L Editors
The key to observing any astronomical event is to head away from city lights as far as possible — ideally to a dark sky place, if you can. Once there, give your eyes 20 to 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness before you look up.
And if you can’t get out of town for these night-sky wonders this month, don’t worry — some of them will still be visible even through light pollution (particularly that lunar eclipse!)
Here are three must-see celestial events happening in May.
15–16 May: Supermoon and total lunar eclipse
The Flower Moon, as it’s known colloquially due to the blooming of flowers in May, will be the first Supermoon of 2022. When a Supermoon occurs, the moon is within 90 percent of its closest approach to Earth, so it’ll appear slightly larger and brighter than other full moons, space and technology outlet Inverse explains.
To make this event even more spectacular, the Flower Moon will also undergo a total lunar eclipse, turning it blood red — this happens as the moon enters the Earth’s shadow. The total lunar eclipse will be visible across most of the Americas, starting on 15 May and ending on 16 May, according to NASA.
28 May: Mars-Jupiter conjunction
Later in the month, Mars and Jupiter will appear to “kiss” in the night sky in what’s called a conjunction — when two celestial bodies seem to be close together from the perspective of Earth, but in reality are very far apart, according to astronomy news site In The Sky. (The average distance between Mars and Jupiter is just shy of 350 million miles or 56,32,70,400 km.)
Interestingly, the phenomenon will only be visible with the naked eye or binoculars. If you look at Mars and Jupiter through a telescope, you actually wouldn’t be able to see both within the same frame.
30 May: A new meteor shower?
It’s not every day that a new meteor shower comes around, but that’s exactly what might happen on 30 May. A comet known as 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, or “SW3,” broke up into more than 70 pieces since 2006, and there’s a chance we may encounter one of those fragments at the end of the month.
“This is going to be an all or nothing event. If the debris from SW3 was travelling more than 220 miles (354 km) per hour when it separated from the comet, we might see a nice meteor shower,” leader of NASA Meteoroid Environment Office, Bill Cooke, said. “If the debris had slower ejection speeds, then nothing will make it to Earth and there will be no meteors from this comet,”
If we do see shooting stars, the meteor shower will be named the Tau Herculids.