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Wednesday 24 May 2017  •   28 Hawthorn Moon 2017

Viewing the night sky in Hawthorn Moon 2017

27 April - 25 May 2017

Map of night sky at full moon: 10 May, 21:43 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Hawthorn Moon 2017

Jupiter has passed its maximum brightness this year, but still shines very prominently in the evening and early night sky. The moon passes close to its north on 7 May.

Relative to its orbit, Saturn’s axis is tilted a bit more than Earth’s is; on 25 May, the ringed planet reaches its northern summer solstice, when its north pole is pointing its maximum amount towards the sun, and thus pretty much towards Earth, too. This happens once every 29 or so Earth years. The rings are thus on brilliant display. As it happens, the planet is also nearing opposition and maximum brightness for the year, so it’s a great time to look at it. It rises in the late evening, and can be seen on the western edge of Sagittarius. The moon is near on the night of 13/14 May. On 18 May, Saturn’s retrograde motion takes it back into Ophiuchus.

Mars may still be visible in the western twilight, especially at the start of the month. Mars is going round towards the back of the sun, and its greater than average distance from the Earth means that it is quite a bit fainter than Aldebaran, the bright red star of Taurus, near Mars this month. On 28 April, the very new moon passes south of Mars, and passes in front of Aldebaran, as seen from Central Europe. For Budapest the occultation lasts from 20:24 to 21:14 (18:24 to 19:14 UTC). For Britain and Ireland, the sun is still in the sky.

Venus is very bright in the eastern morning sky, seen high above the eastern horizon from the southern hemisphere, and lower down as seen from the north. Mercury joins Venus on the morning side of the sun, and on 18 May (17 May UTC), it reaches 25.78°W of the sun. It is a great view from the southern hemisphere, and Mercury is visible in the dawn for a few weeks, but the planet is almost impossible to see from Earth’s north. The moon passes 2.2°S of Venus on 22 May, and 1.4°S of Mercury on 24 May. Between Venus and Mercury, and a bit to their north, but not visible to the unaided eye in the morning twilight, is Uranus. The moon passes south of Uranus on 23 May.

Look out for the Eta Aquarid meteors on 5 & 6 May, especially late in the night, after the moon has set. The view is best from the southern hemisphere.

The month ahead: Oak Moon 2017

26 May - 23 June 2017

Map of night sky at full moon: 9 June, 13:10 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Oak Moon 2017

Saturn comes to opposition and its nearest to Earth on 15 June, 1353 million kilometres, or 75 light minutes away. The opposition is near to the time of Saturn's aphelion, so the planet's near pass is pretty much as distant as it can be, but it is also only just after Saturn's northern summer solstice, so that its northern hemisphere is well tilted towards the Earth and Sun, and its rings are splendidly on view. The planet rises around sunset and shines brightly all night in the south of Ophiuchus. The full moon is close by on the night 9/10 June.

Jupiter shines very brightly in the evening and midnight skies. The moon passes close north of it on 4 June. On 9 June, Jupiter resumes its eastward progress through the stars of Virgo, back towards Spica, as the Earth moves yet further away from it, and our effect on its apparent movement against the outside universe diminishes.

Venus is very bright in the eastern morning sky, and on 3 Jun, reaches 45.87°W of the sun, before heading back inwards, this time towards the far side of the sun, and so a slower journey as seen from Earth, and one where Venus appears gradually less bright. On 3 Jun, look through binoculars or a telescope to see it at half phase. On this morning, it is passing south of Uranus, so swing your binoculars or telescope 1.6°N to catch sight of the ice giant. Venus, Uranus and the star Omicron Piscium form a near right-angle triangle, with the hypotenuse running between the two planets. If you are observing from the southern hemisphere with a good, clear eastern horizon, you may be able to see Mercury rise below them as the sky brightens. The moon is between Uranus and Venus on 20 June, and then just past Venus on 21 June. If you get up early to see the summer dawn, and if clouds don’t block the view, you should be able to see the bright planet and the old crescent together in the sky before the sun rises. As seen from much of western Europe, the exact moment of solstice is soon after sunrise. The further south-west you go, the nearer the solstice is to sunrise, until you get to Bordeaux, where solstice and sunrise will co-incide.

Mars is out of view behind the sun.

William Morris
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