Jon Spargo

This is Mercury’s month to shine as the tiny planet spends most of the month above the western horizon shining at magnitude + 0.0. Having encountered Venus late last month, Mercury steadily rises higher above the western horizon for the first two weeks of May and then begins to sink back down toward the horizon and has another close encounter with Venus on the 28th. While visible to the naked eye, binoculars will definitely help you to view the tiny planet.
Mars continues its western migration, growing dimmer as it does so. Shining at Magnitude +1.6 it can be found hanging out near Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins. Venus continues its slow climb into the western evening sky. Shining at magnitude -3.9 it should be pretty easy to spot above the western horizon.
Jupiter and Saturn continue to dominate the early morning sky. Jupiter, at magnitude -2.4 and Saturn at magnitude +0.6 are slowly narrowing the gap between them reaching a separation of only 18 degrees by month’s end.
This month the Moon will go through a total lunar eclipse on the 26th, the first total eclipse in more than two years. The center of totality will take place over the Pacific Ocean. This will be a short eclipse, lasting for about 18 minutes of totality. This is because the Moon will transit near the edge of the Earth’s umbral shadow. The western half of the United States will be able to view a part of the total eclipse before the Moon sets. The eastern U.S. will see the penumbral part but the Moon will set just as it enters the umbra. The times entered here are for MDT. Add or subtract hours for your time zone. The partial eclipse begins at 3:45 a.m. MDT. The total eclipse begins at 5:10 a.m. MDT. The total eclipse ends at 5:28 a.m. MDT.
The Moon will be last quarter on the 3rd, new on the 11th, first quarter on the 19th and full on the 26th. Looking west on the 12th, about a half hour after sunset, the new crescent Moon will be quite close to Venus with the pair just above the horizon. On the 13th the crescent Moon, now higher above the western horizon, will be slightly above and to the left of Mercury. On the 15th, the crescent Moon will have risen even higher above the western horizon and will be just a bit below and to the right of Mars. Look to the southeast on the 31st, about an hour before sunrise, to find the waning Moon just to the left and slightly below Saturn. The following morning, in the same location and time, finds the Moon just below Jupiter.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions there will not be a first Saturday star party at the Etscorn Campus Observatory.

Jon Spargo
New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club
May 2021

Jon Spargo, New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club