May brings a rare celestial event for our part of the country: a Total Lunar Eclipse! A total lunar eclipse happens only during a full Moon AND when the Moon in its monthly orbit around the Earth reaches its ascending or descending node. What does that mean? The Moon’s orbit is tilted around 5 degrees around the Earth-Sun orbital plane meaning that most of the time the Earth’s shadow will miss to full Moon above or below.
Image Credit: Byron Inouye
But once the Full Moon is perfectly aligned, we will experience a majestic celestial display! The Moon will move slowly into the Earth’s umbral (core) shadow. Once in the umbra, the Moon will take on a reddish hue. This is due to the light of the Sun refracting through the Earth’s atmosphere and will let only longer wavelength, reddish in nature, pass through. This effect is similar to what makes sunsets and sunrises so red. You will get to see all the sunrises and all the sunsets on Earth projected on the Moon! We think that’s pretty cool. We will be holding a special event and you can sign up here: (Fingers crossed for clear skies!)
Depending on your location, the phase of totality will last more than hour. During that time, the night will turn dark as the moonlight will be dimmed by the Earth’s shadow. You’ll get to see all the stars!
If you want to figure out the phases of the total lunar eclipse for your location, feel free to visit: https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/lunar/2022-may-16.
Here is a pic from the total lunar eclipse of May 2021:
We have two meteor showers peak early in May called the Eta Aquarids (debris left by Halley’s Comet) and the Eta Lyrids. The Eta Aquarius could be good with an average number of 30 meteors per hour (this is a prediction!). Best times are after midnight. By the end of May, we could be surprised by a nice meteor shower from Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann. But don’t hold your breath. Lastly, as far as comets go, we are still waiting for what is left of C/2021 O3 PANSTARRS after its perihelion (closest point to the sun on its orbit). Could be a good binocular object.
In the early morning hours, if you are up, look towards the sunrise roughly an hour before it comes up. You see plenty of planets, still. Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn will be visible. They all lie on the ecliptic, which is the apparent annual path of the Sun across the sky. Venus will continue to be dazzling bright.
The constellations continue to shift and by mid-May the Spring Triangle will be high in the sky before midnight. Orion will have set, as it does not want to occupy the sky with his archenemy, Scorpius the Scorpio. You will notice Antares, the heart of Scorpius by 11 PM rising in a southeasterly direction.
May the 4th Be With You
On May the 4th, we will hold a special event for all Star Wars fans and nerd and geeks. The term is a derivation of “May the Force be With You” from the Star Wars franchise and May 4th is celebrated around our planet to commemorate the awesomeness of Leia, Luke, Darth, Yoda, Han, Rey, etc. We want you to come to the dark site and enjoy the stars and Star Wars stories with us. We will talk about the science behind Star Wars and how scientifically accurate some of these claims are, e.g. whether the Millennium Falcon truly is the fastest flying piece of junk in the galaxy. There is always so much to talk about and share in terms of stories from our ancestors and how they interpret the night sky. We want to hear how Star Wars affected you. Whether you want to join the dark side after our event, that is up to you!