The king of planets — the gassy Jupiter — reigns in May and stays bright and nobly serves all night.
Through June, Jupiter sustains its brightest point for the year, reaching “opposition” — which is when the sun and Jupiter are opposite each other (from Earth’s perspective) at 8:39 p.m. May 8 on the East Coast, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory.
Think of it as a “full” Jupiter. The giant will be -2.5 magnitude, which is quite bright, hanging out all night in the constellation Libra.
Early in May, Jupiter rises in the east-southeast at 8:29 p.m., but by the end of the month the planet rises around 6:15, well before the sun sets. On May 8, the day of opposition, Jupiter rises at 7:57 p.m., and the sun sets at 8:07. Late in May, the gibbous moon and Jupiter dance a tango as our lunar object approaches the giant planet May 26 and gets close May 27.
Find Venus in the western heavens during the evening, when the sparkling planet is -3.9 magnitude, quite bright. Our neighboring planet sets around 10:20 p.m. early in the month and around 11 late in May. A very young, skinny crescent moon nestles near Venus on the evening of May 17. Wispy young crescent moons always appear in the western sky at nightfall.
Saturn rises around midnight in the southeast early in May and crosses south before sunrise. The ringed planet is a zero-magnitude object (bright), and on May 4-5, find the gibbous moon loitering near Saturn both mornings.
Earth’s other neighboring planet, Mars, ascends the southeastern heavens around 1:30 a.m. early in May, and the reddish planet gets brighter throughout the month. The planet begins May at -0.4 magnitude, then grows to -0.6 in mid-month and -0.9 later in the month, according to the Royal Astronomical Society (rasc.ca). The apogee moon (its closest point to Earth for the month) finds Mars on May 6 — see it on your early morning dog walk.
The Eta Aquariid meteors are expected to peak on the mornings of May 5 (according to the International Meteor Organization, imo.net) and May 6 (according to the Royal Astronomical Society). These shooting stars originate as trailing dusty leftovers from the famed Comet Halley. Skygazers could see as many as 40 meteors an hour, but the bright gibbous moon will probably wash out most of them.
●May 5 — Astronomy students present their research at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 9 p.m. View the dark heavens afterward, weather permitting. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
●May 5 — “Exploring the Sky,” hosted by the National Park Service and the National Capital Astronomers, at Rock Creek Park, near the Nature Center, in the field south of Military and Glover roads NW. 9 p.m. capitalastronomers.org.
●May 6 — “Auroras!” a talk by photographer Denise Silva, at the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club’s regular meeting, 163 Research Hall, George Mason University. 7 p.m. novac.com.
●May 7 — “Stars Tonight” at the David M. Brown Planetarium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Arlington, adjacent to Washington-Lee High School. 7:30 p.m. $3. friendsoftheplanetarium.org.
●May 9 — “Deep Earth Through a Diamond Looking Glass,” a lecture by Michael Walter, director of Carnegie Science’s Geophysical Laboratory, who uncovers Earth’s secrets from below. At the Carnegie Institution for Science, 1530 P St. NW, 6:30 p.m. Free, registration required. carnegiescience.edu/events.
●May 12 — “Stars Disrupted by Super-Massive Black Holes,” a talk by astronomer Nathaniel Roth, at the National Capital Astronomers regular meeting, held at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 7:30 p.m. capitalastronomers.org.
●May 15 — “Watching Water,” a talk by John Bolten of NASA’s Applied Sciences Program, on assessing global water security and sustainability. At the Mary Pickford Theater, James Madison Memorial Building, Library of Congress. 11:30 a.m. @librarycongress, goo.gl/izFq89.
●May 20 — “The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) Microlensing Mission,” a talk by graduate researcher Sean Terry, at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 9 p.m. Weather permitting, scan the night heavens afterward. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
●May 23 — “The Hubble Space Telescope: Opening Cosmic Doors for James Webb Space Telescope,” a lecture by Jennifer Wiseman, NASA senior project scientist. At the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater, National Air and Space Museum. 8 p.m. Webcast: goo.gl/3jVNoX. Tickets: goo.gl/abDBRx.
Blaine Friedlander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.