April 22, 2024

AstroCal – May 2024

 Did you get to enjoy the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024?  Ontonagon County got to watch the overcast sky darken and listen to the birds roosting, but seeing the actual eclipse had to be done on-line or on TV.  It wasn’t nearly as good in the Western Upper Peninsula as the show we saw in August of 2017.  I did receive a nice photo snapped by former Ontonagonite John Fischer in Illinois (a nine hour drive from his current home in Green Bay).  Our old NASA contact Ralph Winrich was taking some photos near Stoughton, WI when he happened to catch Force One winging its way to ward Madison.  If you didn’t get a good view, there are still numerous sites posting clear sky observations.  The clips of the entire shadow crossing the United States taken from the International Space Station are worth finding.  Other than that, it will be 2044 until the next total eclipse crosses the mainland United States following a path east from California.

     On to May and the end of the Lunar Cycle that began with the New Moon / Eclipse on April 8.  The Last Quarter and Crescent Moon will occur on May 1 & 5 or 6 (look low in the East).  Mars and  Mercury will be nearby shining faintly at +1.1 and +0.7 magnitude.  The beginning of the next cycle commences on  May 7 with the New Moon.  Those who seek the earliest glimpse of the New Crescent Moon should look near the WNW horizon about 40 minutes after sunset on May 8 & 9.  The First Quarter and Full Moon are slated for May 15 and 23 and the month will close with the Last Quarter Moon on May 30.  The Full Moon on May 23 will occult the bright red star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion.  More details on this even can be found at .

     Sunday, May 5 will mark the only time a strong meteor shower will take place during a New Moon this year.  According to the Abram’s Planetarium, “The Eta Aquarid meteor shower will peak on May 5.  The meteor shower is expected to show a noticeable burst for several days on either side of this peak.  The meteoroids causing this year’s outburst were ejected from Halley’s Comet about 2500 years ago.”  

     As far as evening planets are concerned, May will be a big disappointment.  After having fantastic views of Jupiuter all winter, this Gas Giant will finally disappear from view as it moves toward conjunction on May 18.  Likewise, Unranus will be out of view with its own conjunction with the Sun on May 13 and Mercury will pass behind the Sun and not return to the night sky until late June.

     Morning planetary observations will be a little more entertaining this month than the planet less evening skies.  Mercury, Mars, and Venus can all be found low in the east during the pre-dawn hours early in the month.  Though it will be at its greatest elongation 26 degrees west of the Sun on May 9, Mercury will not get very high above the horizon.  This is because of the shallow angle of the ecliptic (the ecliptic is the plane of the planetary orbits around the Sun).  Binoculars will be helpful spotting the Winged Messenger as it’s magnitude will range between +1.0 and -0.8 during the month. 

     Mars begins May 16 degrees to the upper right of Mercury and this distance will increase to 31 degrees by month’s end.  Mars will appear dim at 1.1 mag because it is on the far side of the solar system at present.  Mars will continue to get closer to the Earth all year, reaching opposition in January of 2025.  The Red Planet begins May 184 million miles away from us and by May 31, it will be 173 million miles from Earth.

     Continuing 14 degrees to the upper right of Mars, one will find Saturn.  This distance will also increase by May 31 when it will be 35 degrees to the upper right of Mars.  Through a small telescope, one can see the planet’s rings tilted at 2.5 degrees from edge-on.  The inclination of the ring system changes as we view them during Saturn’s 30 year orbit around the Sun.  Next year will be seeing an ‘edge crossing’ next year where the rings will be seen edge-on from Earth.

Venus will still be too close to the Sun to be seen until it re-emerges in the evening sky in July.

     Our ‘Abrams Planetarium factoid’ for this month involves the Moon:  “The Moon is approaching a Major Standstill in January 2025.  A Major Standstill happens every 18.6 years as the Moon’s orbit precesses,  This causes the Moon’s declination to range more than 5 degrees farther north and south each month compared to the average range.”

     Don’t forget to celebrate Astronomy Day on May 18, 2024.

   Compiled by Ken Raisanen of WOAS-FM – information provided by Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar, Michigan State University.  More information and subscription information can be found on their website at or on X (formerly Twitter) at  Yearly subscriptions cost $12 and can be started anytime.

Top Piece Video:  Just a way to remind Venus that we look forward to her return!