Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.
What To See In The Night Sky This Week: May 15-21, 2023
This week is arguably the very best for stargazing during May 2023. Why? It’s New Moon, which means dark night skies all week. The perfect time to plan a stargazing trip or event—or just a session in your backyard. However, arguably the most entrancing sight of all this week will be a waning crescent Moon beside giant planet Jupiter—and, if you’re in the right place on our planet, you’ll see Jupiter disappear behind the Moon.
Wednesday, May 17: Jupiter occulted by the Moon
Wherever you are in the world, make the effort to get up an hour before sunrise, and look east. You will see a delicate 6%-lit crescent Moon almost bumping into Jupiter. That will be a beautiful site indeed. However, if you’re in Canada, the contiguous US, Mexico, Greenland, northern Scandinavia or the northern UK then you may also be able to see the crescent Moon occult—or eclipse—the giant planet. Your specific location hugely affects what you will be able to see and when you’ll be able to see it, so punch in your location to In-The-Sky.org for exact timings.
Wednesday, May 17: Axiom-2 launches
Today at 7:34 p.m. EDT there’s scheduled to be a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch carrying the Axiom-2 mission—the second privately funded mission to the International Space Station. It will be commanded by ex-NASA astronaut Peggy Watson as well as two astronauts from Saudi Arabia.
Friday, May 19: New Moon
At at 11:53 a.m. EDT today is every stargazer’s favorite moment of the moth—the New Moon. This lunar phase, which sees our natural satellite in space roughly between the Earth and the Sun, means that the night skies are completely free of moonlight. That makes tonight the very best month for stargazing, though practically speaking the entire week is excellent.
Sunday, May 21: A crescent Moon, Venus and Mars
Look to the western sky after sunset today with the intention of finding a very slim crescent Moon. You may need to use binoculars. It will be a wondrous sight on its own, but while you’re looking also check out bright Venus and a much dimmer Mars above it.
Constellation of the week: Ursa Major ‘The Great Bear’
Many stargazers gets Ursa Major wrong. Google it and you’ll be told that it’s just another name for the Big Dipper. It’s not! The Big Dipper is within Ursa Major, but it’s only a portion of it. Ursa Major means “The Great Bear” and the Big Dipper is but the animal’s hindquarters.
Have a go at finding this vast constellation—which is high in the sky this month (so you’ll need to re-orient the above image)—and you’ll forever know one of the most famous, but least-known constellations in the northern hemisphere.
Object of the week: Mizar and Alcor
Find the second star in from the top of the handle of the Big Dipper constellation within the constellation Ursa Major and you’ll soon realize that you’re actually looking at two stars—Mizar and Alcor. Known top some cultures as the “Horse and Rider,” being able to split them with the naked eye has been used as a test of eyesight.
Mizar and Alcor are actually not connected to each other, but they are each multiple star systems of their own. The larger Mizar is actually a star system with four stars all gravitationally bound while smaller Alcor is two stars.
Times and dates given apply to mid-northern latitudes. For the most accurate location-specific information consult online planetariums like Stellarium and The Sky Live. Check planet-rise/planet-set, sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times for where you are.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.
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