What’s Up? May 2020

Each month I will highlight a few things for you to spot in the night sky. These will be visible with the naked eye.

Planets

The planet Venus has put on an amazing evening display over the last few months. At the end of April it appeared alongside a crescent moon- a spectacular sight.

For the first half of May it will continue its fine show, shining brightly amongst the stars of Taurus during the evenings. By mid-month it will begin to fade as it sets earlier. So enjoy it while you can!

The inner-most planet, Mercury never blazes quite like the second planet from the Sun, Venus and rarely makes an appearance for us in the northern hemisphere. However, it will be visible in May and with these clearer skies it is worth a spot!

Mercury in the twilight sky around mid-month

(Courtesy of Stellarium)

Around mid-month Mercury will be visible low down in the twilight sky (NEVER use binoculars in the direction of the Sun!) You will need to have a fairly low horizon and be looking north-west.

Mercury and Venus close together in the twilight sky around the 22nd May

Mercury

(Courtesy of Stellarium)

Jupiter remains low in the sky but will be visible in the early hours and mid-month will put on a display alongside Saturn. You’ll need to be up early (or very late!) to see these two shining in the South- south-eastern sky. You may even catch a glimpse of Mars, Saturn and the Moon all together. Below is the star map for around 04:00 in the morning on the 12th May.

Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and the Moon together around 04:00 on the 12th May 2020

(Courtesy of Stellarium)

Comets

It is possible that you may see a comet with the naked eye this month. That would be a special treat!

Comets are consisting of rock, dust and frozen gases. They usually come from the Kuiper belt – a ring of rocks way-out there beyond Neptune. Or, even further out from another frozen wasteland known as the Oort Cloud. They are probably knocked out of their normal orbit through collision, resulting in them taking up a new orbit which takes them closer to the Sun.

As they approach the Sun a tail of dust and gas is created as the comet heats up. This is what we can see. Most comets are extremely faint and require a good telescope but some are visible in the night sky. Halley’s comet being the classic example.

The problem with predicting whether the comet will be visible or not is that we don’t know how the comet will behave as it gets nearer the Sun. But let’s be optimistic.

The comet in question is Comet 2019 Y4 (ATLAS) – let’s call it Atlas from here on.

Comet Atlas around the 10th May – here at 22:00hrs

(Courtesy of Stellarium)

If it turns out to be visible then you simply need to look in a north-west direction once it is dark. Locate Venus if you can and then the bright star higher up and to the right- which is Capella. Atlas should be higher still and to the right. Later in the month it will be lower than Capella. I hope you catch a glimpse!

Enjoy the night sky and let me know if you catch sight of any of these objects.