See the Moons of Saturn

The majestic, ringed planet Saturn continues to dominate the night sky this spring.  You’ll notice it as a bright point of light in the southeastern sky during the evening hours, shortly after sunset.  (For those of you who live in Australia, New Zealand and other areas of the southern hemisphere, look for Saturn in the northeastern sky after sunset.)

If you have a telescope, be sure to take a look at Saturn during the evening hours of May 22 (May 23 for those of you in Australia and other areas of the eastern hemisphere).  On that evening, four of Saturn’s largest moons will appear to be lined up in a row, making for a special visual treat!

Saturn on the evening of May 22
Saturn and some of its largest moons. From left to right: #1 Dione, Saturn, # 2 Tethys, # 3 Rhea, and # 4 Titan. The moon below, # 5, is Iapetus, a somewhat dimmer moon of Saturn than numbers 1-4.

You might want to prepare for the May 22 viewing by finding Saturn in the night sky earlier in the month: This way, you’ll know where to aim your telescope on May 22.  On May 13 (May 14 for those of you in Australia, etc.) the Moon provides a ‘landmark’ (or, perhaps we should say, a ‘skymark’) that you can use to identify Saturn.

Saturn, the Moon and Spica
On the evening of May 13, Saturn will appear near the Moon and the bright star Spica. For those of you in Australia and other parts of the southern hemisphere, see the image below.
The Moon, Saturn and Spica as viewed in the southern hemisphere
The Moon, Saturn and Spica as viewed from the southern hemisphere of Earth on the evening of May 14

Saturn, with its wonderful rings, is indeed an impressive sight through any telescope.  Be sure to take a look at this planetary jewel while the viewing is still good!

The Planets This Month

Saturn dominates the night sky in May: See the discussion above for information on how to find it.

Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Mercury are all ‘morning stars’ this month, barely visible over the eastern horizon at sunrise.  Those of you in the southern US and the southern hemisphere will probably get a better view of these four planets this month than those of you in more northern latitudes.  Look for Jupiter and Mars together, low in the eastern sky on May 1 (May 2 for those of you in Australia and the eastern hemisphere).  On May 11 (May 12 for those of you in Australia and the eastern hemisphere), look for the bright planet Venus and Jupiter to appear close to one another: The elusive planet Mercury will be near Venus and Jupiter that morning as well.

Halley's Comet
Halley's Comet left a lot of dust particles in its wake: Every year, Earth flies through those dust particles, which burn up in our atmosphere as "shooting stars."

See Some Shooting Stars in Early May

The “Eta Aquarid” meteor shower peaks the evening of May 6 (May 7 for those of you in Australia and other parts of the eastern hemisphere).  Although this is not one of the largest meteor showers of the year, it has the advantage of occurring when moonlight won’t interfere (moonlight ‘washes out’ a lot of dim shooting stars).  Depending on where you live in the world and how far away you are from city lights, you may see as many as 70 shooting stars (metors) per hour that evening.

No telescope or binoculars are needed!  Just lay down on a blanket or reclining chair, look up and enjoy!

BTW, the Eta Aquarid meteors are actually tiny dust particles left by Halley’s Comet as it flies through the solar system.  As Earth orbits the sun, our planet passes through the stream of dust left by Halley’s Comet.  When  these dust particles enter our atmosphere at high rates of speed, they burn up, appearing as “shooting stars.”

When to go stargazing this month

Moonlight ‘drowns out’ the faint light of many stars and other celestial objects, so the best time  to view the stars is when the Moon is not visible.  If you’re going to stargaze between sunset and midnight, then the best time to do that this month is during the first five or six days, and during the last week of May.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation.

You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!) But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope.

You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.