May Moon & Planet data for 2014

The Solar System in May 2014

All dates and times are NZST (UT +12 hours) unless otherwise specified. Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

The Sun rises at 7.05 am and sets at 5.30 pm on May 1. By May 31 the times are 7.33 am and 5.03 pm respectively.

Phases of the Moon (times as shown by guide)

First quarter: MAY  7 at  3.15 pm (03:15 UT        )
Full moon:     MAY 15 at  7.16 am (May 14, 19:16 UT)
Last quarter   MAY 22 at 12.59 am (May 21, 12:59 UT)
New moon:      MAY 29 at  6.40 am (May 28, 18:40 UT)

An occultation of Saturn by the moon occurs on the night of May 14/15, a few hours before full moon. Despite the brightness of the moon, the occultation should be visible in a small telescope.

The occultation is visible from all parts of New Zealand and from Australia except the north east. A grazing occultation is visible from a little north of Brisbane. The graze path passes just north of NZ’s North Cape.

Times of mid occultation for some places in NZ are

City        Disappear  Reappear  Duration
Auckland     11:52:59   12:38:51  +/- 44s
Wellington   11:45:46   12:51:45  +/- 29s
Christchurch 11:40:05   12:54:54  +/- 25s
Dunedin      11:36:15   12:51:09  +/- 23s

The duration gives the time taken by Saturn’s disk to move behind the moon. Double these figures to obtain the approximate times for the start/end of the occultation of the rings.

More details of the events can be obtained from Dave Herald’s Occult

The Planets in May

Saturn is at opposition on the night of May 10/11 so will be visible in the evening sky. Jupiter is in the early evening sky setting mid evening. Mars is visible all evening. Venus is in the morning sky.

MERCURY is in the early evening sky, but will set less than 30 minutes after the Sun early in the month. By the end of May it will set a little more than an hour after the Sun. By the time the Sun has sunk to 10° below the horizon on the 31st, Mercury, at magnitude 1.2, will be about 3° above the horizon, so very difficult to see. On the 31st a very thin crescent moon will be 8° above Mercury.

VENUS remains prominent in the morning sky although it begins to rise a little later, about 4.20am at the end of May. This is still more than 3 hours before the Sun. The planet is in Pisces all month except for 3 days mid month when it crosses an indented corner of Cetus

On the morning of May 16 Venus will be just over 1° from Uranus, with the latter to the lower left of Venus. At magnitude 5.9, Uranus will be the only bright object in the same binocular field as Venus. The previous morning Venus will be just under 2° above Uranus while on the morning of the 17th the planets will be 1.5° apart with Uranus to the left of and a little higher than Venus.

On May 25, the 9% lit crescent moon will be just under 4° below Venus.

MARS was at opposition on April 8 so will remain readily visible in the evening sky all May. As the Earth moves away from Mars, the latter will dim a little, but by the end of May it will still be magnitude -0.5. The planet is in Virgo a few degrees from Spica all month. Mars reaches a stationary point in its orbit on the 21st, so its position will not change greatly during May.

The 87% lit moon will be a little less than 3° from Mars on May 11.

JUPITER will be easily seen, if rather low, early in May evenings. By the 31st it will set close to 8pm. Being well north of the equator it is low in southern skies, so best looked for shortly after sunset. The planet is in Gemini about 10° from the star Pollux.

The 24% lit crescent moon will be just under 6° from Jupiter on the evening of May 4.

SATURN is at opposition on May 11 so will then be rising about the time of sunset and setting close to sunrise. The planet will then be 1331 million km (8.90 AU) from the Earth. The angular diameter of the disk will be 18.7 arc-seconds, with the rings just over twice that at 40 arc-seconds. The tilt of the north pole is 21.7 degrees towards the Earth making the rings easily visible in a small telescope.

By the end of May Saturn rises about an hour before the sun sets, so will be already visible to the east as the sky darkens.

The almost full moon will occult Saturn near midnight on May 14/15. The times at which Saturn disappears behind the moon and reappears again the other side of the moon are given above for a few locations. The moon’s limb will take about 45 seconds to move over the disk of Saturn as seen from the south of NZ. The time gets longer further north in the country reaching about 90 seconds in Auckland. The time for the ring system to be covered or uncovered is rather more than twice that of the planet’s disk.

Saturn remains in Libra during May fairly close to alpha Lib and beta Lib. Its changing position relative to the two stars will be detectable during the month.

OUTER PLANETS Uranus and Neptune are both in the morning sky. On May 1 Uranus rises at 4.50 am, Neptune about 3 hours earlier. The Sun rises just after 7.00 am. So Uranus will be at a moderate altitude an hour before sunrise. By May 31 the times are 3 am for Uranus, just before midnight for Neptune and 7.33 am for the Sun.

Uranus is in Pisces during May where it is in conjunction with Venus mid month. Neptune is in Aquarius.

Brighter Asteroids:

(1) Ceres and (4) Vesta remain a close pair of asteroids throughout May, no more than 2.5° apart in Virgo, so easily in the same binocular field. In the evening the two asteroids form a roughly equilateral triangle with Mars and Spica. Each side of the triangle will subtend an angle of some 13° or so. As seen in the evening, the triangle is inverted with Mars and Spica forming the base and the two asteroids at the lower apex.

The two asteroids were at opposition just after Mars in April, so they will fade a little during May, from magnitude 6.0 to 6.6 in the case of Vesta and 7.2 to 7.9 for Ceres.

(2) Pallas is also an evening object rising some 3 hours before Ceres and Vesta. It is in Leo, near Regulus. Pallas’ path takes it within 1.3° of the star on May 13th when the asteroid at magnitude 8.6 will be almost directly below Regulus. By the end of May Pallas will have faded to 8.9 and be 5.5° to the right of the star.

The follwing table lists various solar system object events during May. A list of astronomical terms used in may be found after the table.

May 1 Aldebaran 2.0 degrees south of the Moon
May 2 Moon northern most declination (19.0 degrees)
May 4 Jupiter 5.4 degrees north of the Moon
May 6 Moon at apogee
May 7 Moon first quarter
May 8 Regulus 4.9 degrees north of the Moon
May 10 Saturn at opposition
May 11 Mars 2.8 degrees north of the Moon
May 12 Spica 1.7 degrees south of the Moon
May 14 Saturn 0.5 degrees north of the Moon Occn
Moon full
May 15 Venus 1.2 degrees south of Uranus
May 16 Moon southern most declination (-19.0 degrees)
May 18 Pluto 2.3 degrees south of the Moon
Moon at perigee
May 21 Mars stationary
Moon last quarter
May 22 Neptune 4.7 degrees south of the Moon
May 24 Uranus 1.8 degrees south of the Moon
May 25 Mercury greatest elong E(23)
Venus 2.1 degrees south of the Moon
May 28 Moon new
Aldebaran 2.0 degrees south of the Moon
May 30 Moon northern most declination (19.0 degrees)
Mercury 5.8 degrees north of the Moon
  • apogee: Furtherest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth
  • declination: 'Latitude' for celestial objects. The distance in degress above (north) or below (south) the celestial equator.
  • perigee: Nearest point in the orbit of a body orbiting the Earth