Zippy meteors, a globular cluster, and more light up May’s night sky

Be sure to check out the Full Flower Moon on May 22 and 23rd.
a pink-hued full moon rises above the new york city skyline

The full Flower Moon rises above One World Trade Center and the skyline of lower Manhattan in New York City on May 5, 2023. Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

May 5 and 6Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower Predicted Peak
May 11Globular Cluster Messier 5 Highest Point
May 14 through 30Lāhaina Noon
May 22 and 23Full Flower Moon

While we may not have the excitement of a total solar eclipse this month, May offers us a good chance to see some incredibly fast meteors zipping by. Nighttime stargazing should also start to get more comfortable as temperatures warm up in the Northern Hemisphere. Here’s what to look for in the night sky in May. 

May 5 and 6–Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower Predicted Peak

The Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower is expected to peak on May 5, where roughly 10 to 30 meteors per hour can be seen. Eta Aquarid meteors are known to be super speedy, with some traveling at about 148,000 mph into our planet’s atmosphere. These fast meteors can also leave behind incandescent bits of debris in their wake called trains. 

According to the 2024 Observer’s Handbook from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, this year’s Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower may put on a particularly good show. The waning crescent moon means less light in the night sky and may help viewing conditions.

[Related: The history of Halley’s Comet—and the fireball show it brings us every spring.]

The Farmer’s Almanac suggests looking towards the southeast between 2 to 4 a.m. local time on May 5 and 6. If it’s cloudy or you miss those days, the shower will likely stay fairly strong until around May 10. This meteor shower is usually active between April 19 and May 28 every year, peaking in early May. 

The point in the sky where the meteors appear to come from–or radiant–is in the direction of the constellation Aquarius and the shower is named for the constellation’s brightest star, Eta Aquarii. It is also one of two meteor showers created by the debris from Comet Halley.

May 11–Globular Cluster Messier 5 At Highest Point

A bright globular cluster called Messier 5 (or NGC 5904) will reach its highest point in the sky at about midnight local time. Using a telescope or pair of binoculars, look to the southeastern sky, where it should appear like a patch of light. In the evenings after May 5, M5 will be at its highest point for that day about four minutes earlier each day, according to In the Sky.

[Related: How the Hubble telescope is keeping a 265-year-old stargazing project alive.]

M5 is one of the oldest globular clusters in our galaxy. According to NASA, stars in globular clusters like this are believed to form in the same stellar nursery and grow old together. M5 has an apparent magnitude of 6.7 and is about 25,000 light-years away in the constellation Serpens, It is also very bright in July.

May 14 through 30–Lāhaina Noon

This twice a year event in the Earth’s tropical regions occurs when the sun is directly overhead around solar noon. At this point, upright objects do not cast shadows. It happens in May and then again in July. If you are in Hawaii, you can consult this timetable to see what day and times this month’s Lāhaina Noon will occur near you. 

According to the Bishop Museum, in English, the word “lāhainā” can be translated as “cruel sun,” and is a reference to severe droughts experienced in that part of the island of Maui in Hawaii. An older term in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi is “kau ka lā i ka lolo,” which means “the sun rests upon the brain” and references both the physical and cultural significance of the event. 

May 22 and 23–Full Flower Moon

May’s full moon will reach its peak illumination at 9:53 a.m. EDT on Thursday, May 23. Since it will already be below the horizon when it reaches peak illumination, it will be best to view it on the nights May 22 and 23rd. You can use a moonrise and moonset calculator to determine exactly what time to head out and take a gander at this month’s full moon. 

The name Flower Moon is in reference to May’s blooms when flowers are typically most abundant in the Northern Hemisphere. May’s full moon is also called the Flowering Moon or Waabigoni-giizis in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), the They Plant Moon or Latiy^thos in Oneida, and the Dancing Moon or Ganö́’gat in Seneca. 

The same skygazing rules that apply to pretty much all space-watching activities are key during the nighttime events this month: Go to a dark spot away from the lights of a city or town and let the eyes adjust to the darkness for about a half an hour.