Another week of celestial marvels is in store for early risers and casual skywatchers alike with the last of the year’s supermoons looming, a lineup of bright planets marching across the sky, and meteor showers caused by particles from Halley’s comet.
While Halley’s comet won’t be seen from Earth until 2061, every year particles and dust it has left behind are visible in May and October. This year, according to the American Meteor Society (AMS), the first two weeks of May make the best time to view them.
The show put on by the outbound particles, called the Eta Aquarids meteor shower, is expected to peak on the mornings of May 5 and 6. If you missed it Tuesday, you have another chance on Wednesday.
To see it, you’ll have to set the clock early. Most observers in the northern hemisphere will have a two-hour window before dawn to view these “shooting stars” in the Eastern sky, according to the AMS.
“You will see Eta Aquarid meteors shooting upward from the eastern horizon,” the AMS wrote on its website. “These meteors are striking the Earth from a head-on position, so they will be swift, often covering several tens of degrees in a split second.”
Viewing will be compromised on May 7, when we see the last of the year’s so-called supermoons, which occur when a full moon coincides with the moment the moon is closest to the Earth in its orbit, according to astronomy site EarthSky.
“According to the original definition of supermoon – coined by astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979 – a full moon or new moon has to come within 90% of its closest approach to Earth to be dubbed a supermoon,” according to EarthSky. “In other words, any full moon or new moon that comes to within 224,865 miles or 361,885 km (or less) of our planet, as measured from the centers of the moon and Earth, can be called a supermoon, according to Nolle’s original and extremely generous definition.”
On Thursday, the moon will be 224,429 miles away.
Though supermoons don’t actually look larger to the naked eye, they do appear significantly brighter.
EarthSky explains: “The angular diameter of a supermoon is about 7% greater than that of the average-size full moon and 14% greater than the angular diameter of a micro-moon (year’s farthest and smallest full moon). Yet, a supermoon exceeds the area (disc size) and brightness of an average-size full moon by some 15% – and the micro-moon by some 30%. For a visual reference, the size difference between a supermoon and micro-moon is proportionally similar to that of a U.S. quarter vs. a U.S. nickel.”
“Dazzling Venus, the brightest of them all, can be used to track down nearby Mercury in the evening sky, while brilliant Jupiter acts as your tour guide to Saturn and Mars in the morning sky,” according to EarthSky.