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8 Must-See Astronomy Events in the May Night Sky (2024)

As the weather warms in the northern hemisphere, there’s nothing quite like a night of stargazing. While many of us are unable to travel for astronomy meetups and star parties, we can still set up in our backyards and local parks to enjoy the May night sky.

This month, we’ll receive a series of astronomical treats: planetary close approaches, meteors, and even a few special events with the Moon. Never mind the fact that the Milky Way core is slowly rising as the month goes on and you’ll be able to see that too. The May new moon takes place on May 7th, and the night will be especially dark that evening.

May Night Sky Hero - Zodiacal Light - Willi Winzig via Flickr

Throughout this post, I’ve noted where you need binoculars or a telescope to fully appreciate the astronomical event. If you need guidance on investing in a piece of stargazing equipment, be sure to check my list of recommended telescopes and binoculars at every price point.

Without further ado, here are the May night sky events to mark on your astronomical calendar.

This post was originally published in May 2019, and is updated annually, most recently in April 2024.
Featured photo credit: Willi Winzig via Flickr

May 5 – Peak of the η–Aquariid Meteor Shower

Night Sky in May - Eta Aquariid - Mike Lewinski via Flickr
Photo credit: Mike Lewinski via Flickr

Meteorites always wow the crowds, and in May we have two decent chances for such celestial showers. The first one is the Eta Aquariid Meteor Shower, which peaks on the morning of May 5th this year. This is a better show for earthlings near the equator since the constellation Aquarius – which serves as the meteor shower’s radiant point – will be fairly low in the southern sky.

You can catch this show between late April through most of May every year, but the peak is predicted in the pre-dawn hours of the 7th. The Eta Aquariids typically produce about 40 meteors per hour; it’s not a bad way to kick off the month – especially if you’re not able to see the penumbral lunar eclipse. Speaking of that full moon, it will provide some interference based on the parts of the sky that the moon and Aquarius will be in.

May 8 – Peak of the η-Lyrid Meteor Shower

The Eta Lyrid (η-Lyrid) meteor shower runs from May 3rd to 14th each year, but in 2024, the night of peak activity is likely to occur on May 8th. On this night, you can look in the general direction of the radiant point in the constellation Lyra to try and spot Eta Lyrids streaking across the sky.

While the Eta Lyrids are not a particularly active meteor shower (you can expect an average of 3 meteors per hour during the peak), it’s possible to try and see these meteors both pre-dawn on the 10th and that evening too.

May 14 – Mercury at its Morning Peak

Moon & Mercury

In 2023, I ticked an item off my astronomy bucket list when I finally spotted Mercury for the first time – with my unaided eye one morning in the Maldives. If you want a chance to do the same (though admittedly not in the Maldives!), mark the morning of May 14th on your calendar, as this is when the tiny planet reaches its morning peak just 9° above the southwestern horizon.

Mercury will continue to sit this high above the horizon for several mornings on either side of the 14th (the 6th-24th), so you can take a few opportunities if the skies aren’t agreeable on this morning specifically.

Close Approaches & Lunar Occultations in May

The Moon & Saturn - Cédric Allier via Flickr
Photo credit: Cédric Allier via Flickr

Like 2023, 2024 is a big year for lunar occultations – that is, times when the Moon passes in front of other objects in the night sky (from our Earthly perspective, of course). Of course, the Moon is always passing in front of stuff, but certain “lunar occultations” are notable – particularly when it passes in front of another planet in the solar system.

In May, there are five lunar occultations you can try to see; like eclipses, you need to be on a particular part of the globe to see them, so I’ve noted the date, the specific occultation, and where you need to be to see it:

  • May 3 – Lunar Occultation of Saturn, visible only in the far southern Indian Ocean
  • May 4 – Lunar Occultation of Neptune, visible in Oceania near Australia and New Zealand
  • May 4 – Lunar Occultation of Mars, visible in the western Indian Ocean near Madagascar
  • May 31 – Lunar Occultation of Saturn, visible in far southern South America (Chile/Argentina)
  • May 31 – Lunar Occultation of Neptune, visible in southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, etc.)

If you’re not in the geographic area mentioned for each one, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see: on those nights when the Moon will pass in front of Saturn/Neptune/Mars from a certain perspective, it will have a “close approach” and pass very visually close for the rest of us viewing. The distances between the Moon and the various planets ranges from 1.1 arcminutes to 44.7 arcminutes, which is well within the view scope of a standard telescope or astronomical binoculars.

As close approaches go, these are some of the closest of the whole year, so get out and enjoy them if your skies are clear!

Do you have questions about these astronomical events in the May night sky? Let me know in the comments!

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Valerie is the founder and editor of Space Tourism Guide. She grew up in Alaska, has lived across the U.S., and traveled around the world to enjoy the night sky from many different perspectives. Join her on this journey to explore space right here on earth.

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