See Mercury With Your Own Naked Eyes Just As Halley’s Comet Fireballs Strike: What You Can See In The Night Sky This Week
Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.
What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: May 3-9, 2021
It’s time to go stargazing. With the “Super Pink Moon” out of the way our satellite enters its Last Quarter phase and rises late enough at night to leave the evening sky dark and star-filled.
However, the highlight comes not from stars, but from the little planet Mercury, which on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will appear to be close to the beautiful Pleiades star cluster.
It will be viewable just after sunset in the northwestern sky, so you’ll have to be quick, but it should make a great sight for anyone wanting to tick-off Mercury.
Monday, May 3, 2021: Last Quarter Moon and Saturn
At 19:50 Universal Time today our satellite will reach its Last Quarter phase. It essentially means that the Moon rises after midnight, clearing the way for 10 successive nights of dark, moonless skies.
However, get up early this morning and you’ll see our satellite in the southeast with Saturn about 6º to its upper left, and brighter Jupiter over twice as farther away in the east. Tomorrow the Moon will be halfway between the two planets.
Tuesday, May 4, 2021: Mercury in the Pleiades
The smallest, hottest and fastest-moving planet is in for a great month of May. It’s going to get as far from the Sun as it almost ever gets, which makes it the perfect time to tick “the Swift Planet” off your list. Tonight on Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you!), right after sunset, it will be about 2° from the Pleiades open cluster of stars—also known as the “Seven Sisters”—low down in the west-northwest.
You can also look on Wednesday and Thursday when Mercury and the Pleiades will still appear to be relatively close.
Wait until the Sun has gone down and use binoculars. Look to the southwest and you may see Orion’s Belt sinking, and beyond it, Sirius—the brightest star in the night sky.
Wednesday, May 5, 2021: Eta Aquariid Meteor Shower
Though best viewed from the southern tropics, the Eta Aquariids—which peak in the early hours—usually produce 10 to 30 meteors per hour at their peak for those in southern latitudes of the northern hemisphere.
A waning crescent Moon during the meteor shower’s peak this year will allow for darker skies. It’s active from mid-April to the end of May.
Constellation of the week: Canes Venatici
This little-known two-star constellation is small, but it will help you find some interesting night sky sights in the vicinity. Find its brightest star—Cor Caroli—by following the curve of the handle of the Big Dipper towards the horizon. It’s a double star about 115 light-years distant whose name means “Heart of Charles.”
Times and dates given apply to mid-northern latitudes. For the most accurate location-specific information consult online planetariums like Stellarium and The Sky Live. Check planet-rise/planet-set, sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times for where you are.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.