What’s Up for May? This month, a rocky planet round-up, and a super blood Moon eclipse!
Beginning mid-May, if you can find a clear view toward the western horizon, you’ll have an opportunity to see all four of the rocky, inner planets of our solar system at the same time, with your own eyes. Starting around May 14th, cast your gaze to the west about half an hour after sunset, local time to see if you can spot Mercury, Venus, and Mars. (And well, Earth is kind of hard to miss.)
To see near the horizon, you need an unobstructed view – free of nearby trees and buildings. Some of the best places for this are the shores of lakes or the beach, open plains, or high up on a mountain or tall building.
In addition to the planets, from around the 14th through the 17th, the crescent Moon joins the party for a lovely planetary tableau. Now, Venus will be really low in the sky. (It’ll be easier to observe on its own later in the summer.) But for now, take advantage of this opportunity to observe all of the inner planets in a single view.
May 26 brings a total lunar eclipse. Over several hours, the Moon will pass through Earth’s shadow, causing it to darken and usually become reddish in color. The red color comes from sunlight filtering through Earth’s atmosphere – a ring of light created by all the sunrises and sunsets happening around our planet at that time Because of the reddish color, a lunar eclipse is often called a “blood moon.” Just how red it will look is hard to predict, but dust in the atmosphere can have an effect. (And keep in mind there have been a couple of prominent volcanic eruptions recently.)
Lunar eclipses take place when the Moon is full, and this full Moon happens when the Moon is also near its closest point to Earth in its orbit, often called a “supermoon.”
Unlike solar eclipses, which you should never look at, it’s safe to view lunar eclipses with your eyes. And unlike solar eclipses, which tend to have a narrower viewing path, lunar eclipses are at least partly visible anywhere on the planet’s night side.
Now, eclipses happen at the same moment no matter where you are on Earth, but what time your clock reads during the eclipse depends, of course, on your time zone. The best viewing for this eclipse is in the Pacific Rim – that’s the western parts of the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, and Eastern Asia. For the U.S., the best viewing will be in Hawaii, Alaska, and the western states.
For the Eastern U.S., the eclipse begins for you during dawn twilight. You may be able to observe the first part of the eclipse as the Moon just starts to darken, but the Moon will be near or on the horizon as Earth’s shadow begins to cover it. The farther west you are, the more of the eclipse you’ll be able to see before the Moon sets that morning. Those in the western half of the country will be able to see almost the entire eclipse.
So if you’re in the path of this eclipse, check your local times for the best viewing near you. And if you’re in the U.S., be prepared to get up early if you want to see this rare celestial event: a super blood moon eclipse.
Here are the phases of the Moon for May.
You can catch up on all of NASA’s missions to explore the solar system and beyond at nasa.gov. I’m Preston Dyches from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and that’s What’s Up for this month.
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Successfully Completes First Flight
Video: NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Successfully Completes First Flight
The Ingenuity team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California determined that the flight was successful after receiving data from both the helicopter and the Perseverance Mars rover. › Watch now
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter became the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet on April 19, 2021. The Ingenuity team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California determined that the flight was successful after receiving data from both the helicopter and the Perseverance Mars rover.
Ingenuity is a technology demonstration. The 19-inch-tall Ingenuity Mars Helicopter contains no science instruments. Instead, the 4-pound rotorcraft will help determine whether future explorations on Mars could be conducted from the air.
Perseverance touched down at Octavia E. Butler Landing with Ingenuity attached to its belly on Feb. 18. The helicopter was deployed to the surface of Jezero Crater on April 3.
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The shadow of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter can be seen in this animated GIF composed of images taken by its black-and-white navigation camera during the rotocraft’s third flight, on April 25, 2021.
This is the third color image taken by NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter. It was snapped on the helicopter’s second flight, on April 22, 2021, from an altitude of about 17 feet (5.2 meters). Tracks made by NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover can be seen as well.
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter can be seen hovering during its third flight on April 25, 2021, as seen by the left Navigation Camera aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover.
The downward-looking navigation camera aboard NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took this image of the rotorcraft’s shadow on the surface of Jezero Crater during helicopter’s second experimental test flight on April 22, 2021. The helicopter’s navigation camera autonomously tracks the ground during flight.
The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was built by JPL, which also manages this technology demonstration project for NASA Headquarters. It is supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, and Space Technology Mission Directorate. NASA’s Ames Research Center and Langley Research Center provided significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during Ingenuity’s development.
A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.