NASA is back with its monthly roundup up of celestial treats to spy in the sky. So let’s dive straight in.
Starting on May 2, the space agency recommends looking west about 45 minutes after sunset to get a glimpse of Mercury, accompanied by a slim crescent moon.
Look to the south of the moon and you should also be able to spot the bright red giant star Aldebaran, which is as bright as Mercury.
NASA notes that this will be the only opportunity to see a planet with the naked-eye in the early evening until August, so be sure not to miss this excellent chance.
Toward the end of the month you’ll also be able to see Jupiter and Mars as they appear to get increasingly close in the predawn sky. “Their morning meetup culminates in a close conjunction that you can watch on the 28th through the 30th, where they’ll be separated by barely the width of the full moon,” NASA says in its monthly update, adding that it “should look incredible with binoculars, where you can also see Jupiter’s largest moons.”
Looking toward the middle of May, folks in the Americas, Europe, and Africa will be able to enjoy a lunar eclipse, weather permitting.
The visible part of the eclipse will start at around 10:30 p.m. U.S. ET on May 15. Totality will begin about an hour later and continue for an hour and a half.
“Those in the Eastern U.S. will see the eclipse start with the moon well above the horizon. For the Central U.S., the eclipse starts about an hour and a half after dark, with the moon relatively low in the sky,” NASA said. “On the West Coast of the U.S., the moon rises with totality beginning or already underway, so you’ll want to find a clear view toward the southeast if viewing from there.”
During totality, the moon will offer a dim, reddish hue. Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are safe to look at directly, whether with the naked eye or using binoculars or a telescope.
Coma star cluster
Speaking of binoculars and telescopes, if you have either of these handy then this month offers a great chance to view the Coma star cluster.
Described by NASA as a “loose, open star cluster,” Coma is about 300 light-years away and comprises 40 or 50 stars across a part of the sky about three finger-widths wide.
Coma is the second-closest open star cluster to Earth after the Hyades cluster in Taurus, with its brightest stars forming a distinctive Y shape.
To view the cluster, look southward for the constellation Leo. If you have trouble locating it, we recommend using one of the many excellent astronomy apps available, many of which offer an augmented reality functionality that makes it super-easy to spot celestial features.