Eyes on the skies — May

Welcome to the Ontario Parks “Eyes on the Skies” series. This space (see what we did there?) will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.

While spring “technically” begins in March, most of us living in cold climates tend to celebrate May as the true start to the season.

Here are our astronomical highlights for May, 2021:

The sun

Having passed the spring equinox, the sun continues to rise (and set) further north of due east (and due west). And, as usual, when the sun appears more northerly in the sky, the full moon that month appears almost equally further south.

a round sun setting in the orange sky over a dark horizon

Sunrise and sunset times: 

May 1 May 15 May 30
Sunrise 6:09 am 5:52 am 5:39 am
Midday 1:15 pm 1:14 pm 1:15 pm
Sunset 8:21 pm 8:37 pm 8:52 pm

The moon

The moon has long captivated observers of all ages. May’s lunar phases of the moon occur as follows:

Moon cycle in May 2021.

The planets

The evening skies present only the ever dimming Mars (its dimming as the Earth is moving further and further away from it). However for early risers, Saturn and Jupiter rise around 2:00 am and are well placed in the south by sunrise.

Featured constellations

In last month’s post, we featured the Ursa Major, the Great Bear (Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor, the Little Bear (Little Dipper). In this month’s edition, we will talk about constellations that are ideal for warm weather observation, Boötes the Herdsman, Virgo the Maiden and Libra the Scales. 

constellations

Find more information on this month’s constellations.

Meteor showers

On the night of May 4 into the morning of May 5, observers can see the Eta Aquariid meteors coming from the constellation of Aquarius.

In dark skies, observers should see between 20 to 30 meteors per hour or so. The good news is that many of these meteors show a trail behind them that astronomers call a “persistent train.”

The Last Quarter Moon will brighten the sky and worsen the view towards the early morning but the show can still be enjoyed from dark skies.

night sky

As always, the best way to prepare for a meteor shower is to:

  • get lots of rest
  • use sunglasses for at least three days prior to the shower (to maximize your eyes’ night vision capability)
  • set up a lounge chair and a sleeping bag (use some sort of dew cover or your bag will end up quite wet)
  • get lots of drink and munchies
  • and, best of all, enjoy the experience with some good companionship

A meteor shower occurs when the earth enters the debris field of a comet that has long ago passed around the sun. These bits of dust and grit, often no bigger than your thumbnail, enter the earth’s atmosphere and burn up high above the ground. Learn more about summer meteor showers.

This completes our review of May skies!