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 See In The Night Sky This Week: May 8-14, 2023
With full Moon behind us the night skies at last begin to darken. A waning gibbous Moon later this week means our bright satellite rises after midnight, leaving the post-sunset night skies dark—and perfect for stargazing. As usual, being on planet Earth is all about balance. Sure, the skies are becoming moonless, and the rising temperatures in the northern hemisphere are making stargazing more enjoyable, but as May wears on the hours of astronomical darkness drastically dwindle. After all, we’re only six weeks from the solstice … so get those stars gazed at while you can!
Monday, May 8: Mars in Gemini
Tonight in the western sky after sunset it will be possible to see the planet Mars close to Pollux, one of the two bright stars in Gemini.
Friday, May 12: Last Quarter Moon
Today will see a Last Quarter (or Third Quarter) Moon, which will appear half-illuminated and rise after midnight. Over the next week, its rising time will gradually shift later by about 50 minutes each night, clearing the way for night skies that are darker for longer.
Saturday, May 13: ‘Milky Way’ weekend
With the night sky darker and our planet in the “right” place in its orbit of the Sun, this weeked will see the brighter core of the Milky Way appear to those in the northern hemisphere. Best seen shortly after sunset in the eastern sky, a dark sky destination will be crucial—this is not something you’ll see from an urban backyard.
Constellation of the week: Boötes
The constellation of Boötes, “the herdsman,” is a sign that summer is on its way. The brightest star by far is in Boötes is the red giant star Arcturus, one of the brightest stars that can be seen from Earth. It’s just 37 light-years away.
Object of the week: Whirlpool galaxy
A face-on spiral galaxy that can be seen interacting with a smaller galaxy, the Whirlpool—also called M51—can be seen using any small telescope. It’s a massive 28 million light-years distant in the constellation Canes Venatici close to the Big Dipper. Astronomers think there’s a Saturn-sized planet—the first so-called “extroplanet”— orbiting one of its stars.
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.