The Sky Above You – May 2023

By Duncan Lunan

star map for May 2023

The Moon will be Full on May 5th, and it will be New on May 19th, passing close to the bright planets as it circles the sky during the month.  On the 5th there will be a penumbral eclipse of the Moon, over eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Australasia, not visible from the UK but too faint to see in any case.

The planet Mercury is not visible this month, at inferior conjunction on this side of the Sun on the 1st, and despite being at greatest elongation from the Sun on the 29th, too far south in the morning sky for us.

Venus remains very bright in the evening sky, still setting after midnight.  On 22nd to 24th May, as the Moon passes through Gemini, it will be very close to Venus on the 23rd with Castor and Pollux above them.

Mars begins the month in Gemini, passing Castor and Pollux on the 10th, and is passed by the Moon on the 24th as they both head into Cancer.  Mars sets about 1.30 a.m..

NASA’s LUCY mission to the Trojan asteroids in the orbit of Jupiter photographed four of its intended targets at a distance of 330 million miles, on a trial run in March.  LUCY will pass a much closer asteroid, by chance, on November 1st, providing another useful test, but won’t reach its target Trojans for four more years.

Jupiter is now in the morning sky, rising about 4 a.m. on the border of Pisces and Aries, occulted in daylight by the Moon as seen from Scotland on May 17th.  The event will be partial at Ayr, from 2.45 p.m. to 3.01 p,m, and total elsewhere in Scotland north of Troon and Kilmarnock,  In Edinburgh the disappearance will be from 2.44 to 2.49 p.m., and in Shetland from 2.30 to 3.14 p,m,  Most guides to this year’s events don’t mention it, for some reason, stating only that Jupiter will be near the crescent Moon before sunrise that day.  Major caution is needed in observing the occultation, because it will only be visible in binoculars or a telescope, and the Sun will be only 26 degrees to the left, two and a half fists’ width at arm’s length.  Full details can be found in the May edition of Astronomy Now, currently on sale.

I was asked recently why Jupiter isn’t in the south in the evenings ‘as usual’, and the answer is that because Jupiter takes 12 years to orbit the Sun, each year the Earth takes another month to catch up with it.  Jupiter will be back in its ‘usual’ place by late evening in August, and well into the night sky by September.

Saturn in Aquarius is also in the morning sky, rising about 3 a.m., and above the waning crescent Moon on the 13th and 14th,

Uranus in Aries is not visible in May, in conjunction beyond the Sun on May 9th.  Because Uranus lies ‘on its side’ relative to the other planets, its northern hemisphere is now face-on to us, and on 6th April NASA and ESA jointly released a spectacular image from the James Webb Space Telescope, showing the planet’s rings in full as well as bright storms in the polar region.

Neptune rises about 2.30 a.m., in Pisces, near the Moon on the 15th.

The eta Aquarid meteor shower from Halley’s comet peaks on the morning of the 7th.  Halley’s Comet is at its furthest from the Sun and from us on December 9th this year, before starting on its way back for its next visit in 2061.  Bill Cooke, leader of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre, Huntsville, Alabama, has estimated that a stream of dust from Halley’s Comet in 390 BC could encounter the Earth on the 7th, possibly generating twice the usual hourly rate for the meteors, up to two per minute.  Unfortunately the Moon will be only two days past Full, near Antares in Scorpius, and is likely to spoil the show if it occurs.

Duncan Lunan’s recent books are available through Amazon.  For more information see Duncan’s website,


star map for May 2023

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