What's Up for May. Great views of Saturn and Mars all night long. And a possible new meteor shower.
Hello and welcome. I'm Jane Houston Jones from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Mars dims and shrinks in diameter quite a bit this month, but it's easy to spot high in the Southern sky. Saturn reaches opposition on May 10, rising at sunset and setting just before sunrise. This month the north side of the ring plane is tilted 21.7 degrees, providing a beautiful view of the planet's north pole. Even through modest telescopes, you can see some detail on the pole.
The Cassini mission has been studying the Saturn system since 2004, sending back amazing images. Cassini has also sent back unprecedented data and views of Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus, showing both moons have liquid oceans beneath the surface.
There's a new comet visible in the May skies all month long. Comet PanSTARRS -- C 2012 K1 -- will be visible in binoculars and telescopes, shining at magnitude 7 or 8. It's easy to find as it skims the sky below the Big Dipper. The best time to see it will be on dark, moonless nights at the beginning of the month and again from May 17 through early June.
Speaking of comets, Comet 209 P LINEAR makes a close pass by Earth on May 29. You may be able to spot the small, faint comet as it passes the familiar constellations Ursa Major and Leo from May 10 through the 27. On the nights of May 23 and 24 Earth will possibly pass through the dust trail left by this comet in its previous orbits. If this happens we just might see a new meteor shower. This potential new shower is so new that astronomers are not quite sure what to expect. Predictions run from less than 100 meteors per hour up to an unlikely, but possible, meteor storm as high as 1,000 per hour. The meteor shower's radiant is near Polaris and the constellation Camelopardalis, the cameleopard or giraffe. And it favors observers in southern Canada and the continental U.S. Set your alarm from midnight on May 23 and 24, and keep your eyes peeled for slow-moving but bright meteors, both nights if you can. You can learn about all of NASA's missions, including those that study comets, Mars and Saturn at www.nasa.gov.
That's all for this month. I'm Jane Houston Jones.