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A Rocky Planet Round-Up and a Super Blood Moon Eclipse




Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

May Skywatching Highlights

What happens in May? This month, a rocky planetary roundup and a superblood lunar eclipse!

  • May 3: The bright planet Saturn appears to the left of the half-lit moon.
  • May 4: The moon forms a large triangle in the east-southeast with the bright planets Saturn and Jupiter.
  • In the middle of May: You get the opportunity to see all four of the rocky, inner planets in our solar system at the same time with your own eyes.
  • May 26: Keep an eye out for a total lunar eclipse during the second supermoon in 2021
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Beginning in mid-May, if you can find a clear view of the western horizon, you have the opportunity to see all four of the rocky, inner planets of our solar system at the same time with your own eyes.

See all four inner planets

See all four inner planets (including Earth!) After sunset, beginning in mid-May. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

From around 14 May, take a look west about half an hour after sunset, local time to see if you can spot Mercury, Venusand March. (And yes, the Earth is a little hard to miss.)

To see near the horizon you need an unobstructed view – free of nearby trees and buildings. Some of the best places for this are the shores of lakes or the beach, open plains or high up on a mountain or a tall building.

In addition to the planets, from about the 14th to the 17th, the crescent joins the feast of a lovely planetary tableau. Now Venus will be really low in the sky. (It will be easier to observe alone later in the summer.) But now take the opportunity to observe all the inner planets in a single view.

The moon is reddish during lunar eclipses

The moon usually looks reddish during lunar eclipses due to sunlight filtered through the Earth’s atmosphere. Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

May 26 brings a total lunar eclipse. Over the course of several hours, the moon will pass through the earth’s shadow, causing it to darken and usually turn reddish in color. The red color comes from sunlight that filters through the Earth’s atmosphere – a light ring created by all sunrises and sunsets that happen around our planet at that time.

Due to the reddish color, a lunar eclipse is often called a “blood moon”. It is difficult to predict how red it will look, but dust in the atmosphere can have an effect. (And keep in mind that there have been a few prominent volcanic eruptions recently.)

Lunar eclipses occur when the moon is full, and this full moon occurs when the moon is also close to its closest point to Earth in its orbit, often called a “supermoon”.

Unlike solar eclipses that you should never look at, it is safe to see lunar eclipses with your eyes. And unlike solar eclipses, which tend to have a narrower line of sight, lunar eclipses are at least partially visible anywhere on the planet’s night side.

Global visibility May 2021 Lunar eclipse

This map shows the global visibility of the lunar eclipse in May 2021. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Now eclipses happen at the same moment, no matter where you are on Earth, but when your watch reads during the eclipse naturally depends on your time zone. The best view for this eclipse is in the Pacific – it is the western parts of America, Australia and New Zealand and East Asia. For the United States, the best view will be in Hawaii, Alaska and the western states.

American Visibility May 2021 Lunar Eclipse

The lunar eclipse of May 2021 can best be seen in Hawaii, Alaska and the western US states. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

For the eastern United States, the eclipse begins for you at dawn twilight. You may be able to observe the first part of the eclipse as the Moon just starts to get darker, but the Moon will be near or on the horizon when the Earth’s shadow begins to cover it.

The farther west you are, the more of the eclipse you can see before the moon goes down in the morning. Those in the western half of the country will be able to see almost the entire eclipse.

So if you are in the way of this eclipse, check your local times for the best view near you. And if you’re in the United States, be prepared to get up early to see this rare celestial event: a super-blood eclipse.

Daily guide

May 1: May Day

Saturday, May 1, 2021 will be May 1. We currently divide the year into four seasons based on solar style and the equinox, with summer starting at the summer solstice in June. This approaches summer as the quarter of the year with the warmest temperatures.

A large part of pre-Christian Northern Europe celebrated “cross-fourth days” – halfway between the solstice and the equinoxes – which divided the seasons in those days. Using this older definition, summer was the quarter of the year with the longest daily periods of daylight, starting at Beltane, traditionally celebrated on May 1 (mid-spring). Many of the European May traditions can be traced back to these earlier celebrations of the beginning of summer.

May 3

Monday morning, May 3, 2021, the planet Saturn appears to the left of the half-lit moon. Saturn appears about 8 degrees to the left of the Moon when the pair rises in the east-southeast at. 02:22 EDT. Saturn appears about 7 degrees at the top left of the Moon, as the morning darkness begins at. 05.03

Monday afternoon, the waning moon appears half full as it reaches its last quarter at. 15:50 EDT.

May 4

On Tuesday morning, May 4, 2021, the Moon will have shifted to form a large triangle in the east-southeast with the planets Saturn and Jupiter. Saturn does not rise until 2:17 EDT. The Moon and Jupiter will rise at the bottom left of Saturn at about the same time at 3:01 and 3:02 with Jupiter approx. 10 degrees further to the left of the moon. The moon appears about 18 degrees above the southeastern horizon when morning darkness begins at 6 p.m. 05.02

May 5

Wednesday morning, May 5, 2021, the moon appears to have shifted to approx. 6 degrees below Jupiter, rising in the east-southeast at. 3:33 EDT ca. 1.5 hours before dark at. 05:01, with Saturn appearing further up to the right.

May 11

Tuesday afternoon, May 11, 2021 at 13:24 EDT (2021-May-11 17:24 UTC with 12 minutes uncertainty), Near-Earth Object (2021 GK1), between 33 and 74 feet (10 and 23 meters) across, will pass Earth at 1.5 lunar distances, running at 4,500 miles per hour (2.01 kilometers per second).

Tuesday at 15:00 EDT will be the new moon when the moon passes between the earth and the sun and will not be visible from the earth. Since this new moon is near when the moon is furthest from the earth in its orbit, some have begun to use the term “micromoon” to indicate the opposite of a “supermoon”.

Tuesday at 17:54 EDT, The Moon will be at its peak, its furthest from Earth for this orbit.

11.-12. May

The day – or the day after – New Moon marks the start of the new month for most lunisolar calendars. Sunset on May 11, 2021 marks the beginning of Sivan in the Hebrew calendar. The fourth month of the Chinese calendar starts on May 12, 2021 (at midnight in China’s time zone, which is 12 hours ahead of EDT). In the Islamic calendar, the months begin with the first observation of the rising crescent after the New Moon. Depending on whether the crescent moon is actually seen (for many Muslim communities seen from the holy city of Mecca), sunset on Wednesday 12 May 2021 may mark the beginning of Shawwal and the end of the holy month of Ramadan. This marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, a feast that can last up to three days in some countries.

Early Wednesday evening, May 12, 2021, you may see the very thin growing crescent moon low on the horizon in the west-northwest and appear to the left of Venus from approx. 30 minutes after sunset until the couple settles down about 5 minutes before the evening twilight ends. However, the sky may be too bright and the crescent moon too thin to see without binoculars or a telescope.

May 13

Early Thursday night, May 13, 2021, the planet Mercury will appear about 3 degrees to the right of the thin waxing crescent. The pair is displayed about 8 degrees above the horizon in the west-northwest when the evening darkness ends (21:19 EDT), and Mercury first sets approx. 47 minutes later at 22:06 with moonlight approx. 6 minutes later.

May 15

On Saturday evening, May 15, 2021, the planet Mercury will reach its highest point above the horizon when evening darkness ends for this revelation, approximately 7 degrees above the west-northwest horizon.

Also Saturday night, the rising crescent moon appears in the west-northwest lower right corner of the planet Mars with the pair around midnight.

May 16

On Sunday evening, 16 May 2021, the rising crescent moon will have changed to appear at the bottom left of the bright star Pollux, with the pair set approx. 3.5 hours after the evening twilight ends (Monday morning at 12:49 EDT)

May 17

Monday morning, May 17, 2021, the planet Mercury will reach its largest angular separation from the Sun seen from Earth for this view (called the largest extension) and is displayed semi-illuminated through a large enough telescope. Because the angle of the line between the Sun and Mercury and the horizon changes with the seasons, the date when Mercury and the Sun look furthest apart from Earth is not the same as when Mercury appears highest above the horizon when evening darkness ends.

May 19

Wednesday afternoon, May 19, 2021, the Moon looks half full when it reaches its first quarter at. 15:13 EDT. Beginning Wednesday night, the bright planet Venus will join Mercury across the horizon in the west-northwest when evening darkness ends.

May 19 – 20

Wednesday night to Thursday morning, May 19 to 20, the rising half-full moon appears over the bright star Regulus, with Regulus only set early Thursday morning around 2:07 AM EDT.

May 23-24

Sunday night to Monday morning, May 23 to 24, the rising gibbous Moon appears to the left of the bright star Spica, originally about 7 degrees apart and differing through the night, with Spica first set Monday morning around 3:52 am EDT.

In late May or early June 2021 (2021-May-25 09:26 UTC with 7 days, 17 hours, 11 minutes uncertainty), Near-Earth Object (2013 VO11), between 19 and 43 feet ( 6 and 13 meters) across, will pass Earth between 3.1 and 43.4 lunar distances (nominal 3.4) and travel 22,800 miles per hour (10.18 kilometers per second).

May 25

Tuesday evening, May 25, 2021, at 21:51 EDT, the moon will be in perigee, its nearest earth for this orbit.

May 26

May 26 brings a total lunar eclipse. Over the course of several hours, the moon will pass through the earth’s shadow, causing it to darken and usually turn reddish in color. The red color comes from sunlight that filters through the Earth’s atmosphere – a light ring created by all sunrises and sunsets that happen around our planet at that time.

The best view for this eclipse is in the Pacific – it is the western parts of America, Australia and New Zealand and East Asia. For the United States, the best view will be in Hawaii, Alaska and the western states.

Lunar eclipses occur when the moon is full, and this full moon occurs when the moon is also close to its closest point to Earth in its orbit, often called a “supermoon”.

This is the second supermoon in 2021, and it takes place at. 7:14 EDT Wednesday. (The first supermoon of the year was April 26.) The moon appears full Monday night through Thursday morning.

Preston Dyches, Christopher Harris and Lisa Poje are science communicators and space enthusiasts producing this monthly video series for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Additional astronomy subject guidance is provided by Bill Dunford, Gary Spiers, and Lyle Tavernier.

Retired NASA presenter Gordon Johnston provides the daily guide.




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