May 2, 2019 – Transcript: What’s Up for May? Meteors from Halley’s Comet, dinosaurs in the sky, and a blue moon rises…
May is a good month to spot some shooting stars, as the Eta Aquarid meteor shower reaches its peak the morning of the 6th.
These meteors are actually bits of rock and dust left behind by one of the most famous comets, Comet Halley, which swings through the inner solar system every 75 years.
Each year when Earth crosses through Halley’s trail of dusty debris, we see some of that material burn up in our skies as meteors.
The shower produces good numbers of meteors, especially for viewers in the Southern Hemisphere. You’ll see fewer in the Northern Hemisphere because the shower’s point of origin, called the radiant, doesn’t rise until well after midnight, and won’t get too high in the sky before dawn (sky chart).
Still, it’s always worth a look to catch a few shooting stars. And this year, there’ll be no bright Moon to get in the way, making for great viewing under clear skies. Just face eastward, between about 3 a.m. and dawn, and look up.
Although the peak is predicted to be on May 6th, you should be able to catch a few meteors streaking across the sky any morning the week before or after.
You probably know that an asteroid slammed into Earth 65 million years ago, ending the reign of the dinosaurs.
But did you know there are asteroids named after dinosaurs?
A handful of the more than 20,000 named asteroids are named for types of the extinct reptiles, and two of them make their closest approaches to Earth in May: Asteroid 9951 Tyrannosaurus on May 19th, and Asteroid 9954 Brachiosaurus on May 28.
These ancient space rocks are too faint to be seen without a large telescope. They’re residents of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter (chart), and never come too close to Earth.
But there are plenty of asteroids out there that do, which is one reason why NASA searches for, tracks and explores asteroids — to be better prepared if we ever find one that might pose a threat.
The full moon on May 18 will be a “Blue Moon.”
Usually there are three full moons each season, but occasionally there are four. Historically, the third full moon in a season with four full moons is called a blue moon.
A blue moon doesn’t actually look blue, but they are kind of rare — on average, they occur about every two-and-a-half years.
May 18 also marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Apollo 10 mission to the Moon, in 1969. It was like a dress rehearsal for the first Moon landing, setting the stage for Apollo 11 and that “one small step” just two months later.
Here are the phases of the Moon for May.
You can catch up on all of NASA’s current and future missions at nasa.gov.
That’s all for this month.
Additional astronomy & skywatching info from NASA’s Night Sky Network: https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov