Astro Bob: May, a merry month to stargaze

A calendar of May's best naked-eye, astronomical sights.

Venus at dusk
The second planet from the sun shines high and bright in the western sky during evening twilight, setting around midnight. Once you're familiar with where to look, try spotting Venus shortly before or right at sunset.
Contributed / Bob King

What a captivating sight Venus is in the western sky at dusk! The planet sets quite late — right around midnight from many locations — and displays phases like the moon’s when viewed through a small telescope. On May 1 Venus looks like a small gibbous or two-thirds-full moon. By month’s end it dwindles to half and grows larger as its distance from Earth shrinks. If you keep a close eye you’ll notice that the planet slowly gains on much fainter Mars, which crosses from Gemini into Cancer during May.

Saturn appears at dawn but remains rather low in the southeastern sky for the moment. The moon helps pinpoint it on May 13. Jupiter pops back into view in the dawn sky this month. I encourage you to catch its close conjunction with the thin, waning moon on May 17.

Milky Way May 22.jpg
The bright, summertime Milky Way drapes low across the eastern sky in mid-to-late May around 11:30 p.m. - midnight local time.
Contributed / Stellarium

One of my favorite spring sky sights is the return of the summer Milky Way, that misty sash of billions of stars so distant they blend into a foggy haze. On May 1, it mounts the eastern sky around 1 a.m. local time. By month’s end — the same time the mosquitos return (grr!) — the puffy band stands over the horizon two hours earlier around 11 p.m. Is summer already so close? The stars say so.


May 4 – Waxing gibbous moon shines just 2° to the upper left (northeast) of Virgo’s brightest star Spica


May 5 – Full Flower Moon. Find your local moonrise time at

Eta Aquariids sporadic meteor May 5 2021 S.jpg
A piece of comet dust entering the atmosphere at high speed scratches a meteor streak on the sky. Although a bright moon will hugely interfere with the Eta Aquariid shower on May 6, diehards will see at least some activity before dawn.
Contributed / Bob King

May 6 (early a.m.) Peak of the annual Eta Aquariid meteor shower. Shower meteors are bits and pieces of Halley’s Comet that strike the atmosphere at high speed, burn up and produce streaks of light called meteors. Unfortunately, the moon will be full, making viewing it a challenge. But if you like early morning adventures, plan to be out in the last hour before dawn around 3:30-4 a.m. and face south. Northern hemisphere sky watchers might see up to a couple dozen meteors per hour under better circumstances.

May 8-10 – Venus passes 1.5° to 2° above the star cluster M35 in Gemini the Twins on all three evenings. This is a binocular event visible starting in late twilight. Place Venus in the upper part of the binocular field of view and look a short distance below it to spot a little clump of stars. The cluster twinkles from 2,800 light-years away.

May 12 – Last quarter moon

ISS May 14
This all-sky map shows the path of the International Space Station (ISS) for the Duluth, Minnesota region on May 14, 2023. Times are local. The station will pass under the constellation Leo and above the bright, orange star Arcturus during the crossing.
Contributed / Heavens Above, Chris Peat

May 12-30 – The International Space Station makes evening and morning passes from dusk till dawn over the next 2 1/2 weeks. The flying space laboratory looks like a brilliant, pale yellow star traveling from west to east across the sky. For local times, go to Heavens Above or NASA's Spot the Station .

Saturn moon conjunction May 13 2023.jpg
The waning moon leads us to the planet Saturn when the two are in conjunction low in the southeastern sky at dawn on May 13.
Contributed / Stellarium

May 13 (dawn) – Thick, waning crescent moon passes about 5° to the lower right (southwest) of Saturn in early morning twilight. Look low in the southeastern sky for the pair.

Jupiter moon pairing May 17 2023.jpg
A delicate waning crescent pairs up closely with Jupiter at dawn on May 17. Bring binoculars to help you scout them out.
Contributed / Stellarium

May 17 (dawn) – Wire-thin crescent moon hovers just a degree to the right of Jupiter very low above the eastern horizon about 45 minutes before sunrise. You’ll need an unobstructed view to the east to see the cool duo.

May 19 New moon


May 22 and 23 – Lunar crescent shines about 5° to the lower right of Venus at dusk on May 22 and 6° to its upper left on May 23.

May 24 – Waxing crescent moon shines about 4° to the upper left of Mars at nightfall

May 26 – Almost-first quarter moon beams 3.5° above Leo’s brightest star Regulus at nightfall

Moon 1st quarter
A first quarter or half-moon has traveled a quarter of the way around its orbit. This phase is one of the best for seeing craters with binoculars or a small telescope. If using binoculars, hold them against a ladder rung or a car roof, focus sharply and then scan the bottom left side of the moon.
Contributed / Bob King

May 27 First quarter moon

"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer and retired photographer for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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