May Night Sky- astronomical highlights

Never miss another astronomical event with our observing highlights from the Royal Observatory astronomers. 

This month, have a look for meteors in the annual Eta Aquariids meteor shower.

(Details given are for London and may vary for other parts of the UK.)

6-7 May – catch the peak of the Eta Aquariids meteor shower. It is one of two showers linked to the famous Halley’s comet, named after the second Astronomer Royal here at the Royal Observatory. Ordinarily you’d be able to see a shooting star every other minute. Unfortunately, however, the presence of a bright waxing gibbous Moon will wash out many of the fainter meteors. That said, it is still worth a look towards the Eastern horizon in the pre-dawn sky. 

8 May - as much as the Moon hinders, it also helps. This month it will guide your eye to several planets. In the early hours it gets tantalisingly close to blocking out – or occulting – Jupiter.

14 May – the Moon will also nestle beside Saturn in the hours before sunrise.

17 May - Mercury is visible this month, too, as it reaches Greatest Western Elongation – its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. It can be seen low in the East just before sunrise. It’s the smallest planet in the solar system and can be hard to spot, so a pair of binoculars can help you track it down. Like all planets it doesn’t twinkle in the same way that stars do.

22 May – the Waning Crescent Moon glides close to the bright planet Venus 30 minutes or so before daybreak.

May is also a great month to indulge in what many amateur astronomers call ‘The Messier Marathon’. The Messier catalogue is a list of fuzzy objects compiled by French astronomer Charles Messier. Messier was a comet hunter and his list enabled astronomers not to confuse a supposed new comet with a known gas cloud or galaxy. The constellation of Virgo is particularly rich in Messier objects, being the home of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Hunt them down with a telescope in the region between Jupiter and the star Denebola at Leo's tail, which is approximately due south just before midnight.

Get prepared for stargazing

When looking at faint objects such as stars, nebulae, the Milky Way and other galaxies it is important to allow your eyes to adapt to the dark – so that you achieve night vision. Allow 15 minutes for your eyes to become sensitive in the dark and remember not to look at your mobile phone or any other bright device when stargazing. If you are using a star app on your phone switch on the red night vision mode.

Need a stargazing telescope or decent binoculars? Check out our range of high-quality observing equipment recommended by Royal Observatory astronomers:

See our range of observing equipment

Share your astronomy pictures

Don’t forget to share your pictures of the night sky with us on Twitter @ROGAstronomers or via Facebook

Come and see last year’s amazing entries to the world’s biggest astrophotography competition (Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year) in our free exhibition at the Royal Observatory.

Visit the free Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition

See more of the night sky

Come on an amazing tour of this month’s night sky in our Sky Tonight live planetarium show.

See the Sky Tonight planetarium show