The Sky Above You – May 2021
By Duncan Lunan
The Moon will be New on May 11th, and it will be Full on May 26h. This will be a ‘supermoon’, when the Moon is Full at its nearest to Earth, and will be the brightest Full Moon of 2021, except for a total lunar eclipse visible from the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand.
The wait continues for results from the Chang’e 5 spacecraft, with which China returned samples from the Moon in December last. Meanwhile Russia has annonced its intention to return to the Moon later this year with a sampling mission designated Luna 25, picking up the numbering where it was left off with their last sample return in 1976.
The planet Mercury is at its best for the year in May, higher than Venus in the evening sky for most of the month. Mercury will be close to the Pleiades in Taurus on May 3rd and 4th, with Venus below, and it will remain higher than Venus till the 28th, though it loses altitude from the 12th onwards. Mercury is passed by the Moon on the 13th, and is at its greatest separation from the Sun on the 17th, and it passes Venus on the left on the 28th, disappearing by the end of the month.
Venus sets at 9.15 p.m. (BST) in early May, and at 10.30 p.m. by the end of the month, passing the Pleiades on the 9th, and passed by the Moon at upper left on the 13th, with Mercury to the Moon’s right,
Mars moves through Gemini and is near Castor and Pollux in late May, setting meanwhile around 0.45 a.m.. The Moon is between Mars and Mercury on the 14th and still nearer to Mars on the 15th.
Jupiter in Aquarius rises at 2.30 a.m., with the waning Moon nearby on the 4th and Saturn to upper right of them.
Saturn in Capricornus rises at 2.30 a.m., and is passed by the Moon on the 3rd and the 31st.
Uranus in Aries is not visible, after conjunction on the far side of the Sun on April 30th.
Neptune rises in Aquarius around 3.00 a.m., passed by the Moon on May 6th.
The Eta Aquarid meteor shower, one of the two per year from Halley’s Comet, peaks on the morning of May 6th.
.My space travel stories, old and new, have been collected and published by Other Side Books as From the Moon to the Stars, relating to the Moon and Project Apollo, and The Other Side of the Interface, with a wider scope. Both have illustrations by Sydney Jordan, and are available through Amazon or through bookshops. Details of them and my other books are on my website, www.duncanlunan.com.
The Sky Above You
By Duncan Lunan
About this Column
I began writing this column in early 1983 at the suggestion of the late Chris Boyce. At that time the Post Office would allow 1000 free mailings to start a new business, just under the number of small press newspapers in the UK at the time. I printed a flyer with the help of John Braithwaite (of Braithwaite Telescopes) offering a three-part column for £5, with the sky this month, a series of articles for beginners, and a monthly news feature. The column ran from May 1983 to May 1993 in various newspapers and magazines, but never in more than five outlets at a time, although every one of those 1000-plus papers would have included an astrology column. Since then it’s appeared sporadically in a range of publications including The Southsider in Glasgow and the Dalyan Courier in Turkey, but most often, normally three times per year, in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos from the first issue in March 2003 until the last in January 2018. It continues to appear monthly in Troon's Going Out and Orkney News. Enquries from other outlets welcomed!
The monthly maps for the column were drawn for me by Jim Barker, based on similar, uncredited ones in Dr. Leon Hausman’s “Astronomy Handbook” (Fawcett Publications, 1956). Jim had to redraw or elongate several of them because they were drawn for mid-US latitudes, about 40 degrees North, making them usable over most of the northern hemisphere. The biggest change needed was in November when only Dubhe, Merak and Megrez of the Big Dipper, as the US version called it, were visible at that latitude. In the UK, all the stars of the Plough are circumpolar, always above the horizon. We decided to keep an insert in the January map showing the position of M42, the Great Nebula in the Sword of Orion, and for that reason, to stick with the set time of 9 p.m., (10 p.m. BST in summer), although in Scotland the sky isn’t dark then during June and July.
To use the maps in theory you should hold them overhead, aligning the North edge to true north, marked by Polaris and indicated by Dubhe and Merak, the Pointers. It’s more practical to hold the map in front of you when looking south and then rotate it as you face east, south and west. Some readers are confused because east is on the left, opposite to terrestrial maps, but that’s because they’re the other way up. When you’re facing south and looking at the sky, east is on your left.
The star patterns are the same for each month of each year, and only the positions of the planets change. (“Astronomy Handbook” accidentally shows Saturn in Virgo during May, showing that the maps weren’t originally drawn for the Hausman book.) Consequently regular readers for a year will by then have built up a complete set of twelve.