Celestial Events in May 2023: Comets, Meteor Showers, Planets

~5 min

May 2023 will be an exciting month for astronomy enthusiasts, with several notable celestial events taking place throughout the month, including meteor showers, Moon-planets conjunctions, and a lunar eclipse. To always have an up-to-date astronomy calendar in your hand, get the Sky Tonight app.


Astronomical events in May 2023

Note that the data are specified for the mid-latitudes. If the exact period isn’t specified (e.g., evening or morning), then an event is visible at night.

Planets in May 2023

Northern Hemisphere

Mercury (mag 0.8) is visible in the morning sky by the end of the month. Look for it in the constellation Aries. In the evening, Venus (mag -4.3) is visible above the western horizon in Taurus at the beginning of the month and in Gemini at the end. On its way to the greatest elongation in June, the planet shines brighter each month. Less bright Mars (mag 1.5) is high in the western sky in Gemini and moves to Cancer later this month. Jupiter (mag -2.0) can be seen near the eastern horizon in Aries at the end of the month. Saturn (mag 0.9) is also visible in the morning, low in the southeast in Aquarius. Use a telescope to see Neptune (mag 7.9) just above the horizon in the morning in the constellation Pisces. You'll have about an hour to observe the planet.

Sky in May for the Northern Hemisphere
Planets as seen from the Northern Hemisphere. Made with the help of the Sky Tonight app.

Southern Hemisphere

For Mercury (mag 0.8), wait until the middle of the month. It's visible in the morning in the northeast in the constellation Aries. Venus (mag -4.3) is above the northwest horizon in the evening, starting the month in Taurus and later moving to Gemini. Look for Mars (mag 1.5) in the evening, in the direction of the north. At the beginning of the month, it sits in Gemini and moves to Cancer in the second half of May. Jupiter (mag -2.0) is low above the northeastern horizon in the morning in Pisces; it moves to Aries at the end of the month. Look for Saturn (mag 0.9) in Aquarius in the morning. Uranus (mag 5.8) is visible near the northeastern horizon in Aries at the end of the month. Neptune (mag 7.9) appears in the morning in Pisces. Remember that you'll need powerful binoculars or a telescope for the last two planets on the list.

Sky in May for the Southern Hemisphere
Planets as seen from the Southern Hemisphere. Made with the help of the Sky Tonight app.

Penumbral lunar eclipse in May 2023

On May 5, 2023, a rare deep lunar penumbral eclipse will occur. It will be entirely visible over Asia and Australia and partially over Africa and Eastern and Central Europe.

Although most observers tend to think that a penumbral eclipse can't be seen with the naked eye, this is not entirely true. Only those eclipses that have a penumbral magnitude of less than 0.60 are not visible to the naked eye. The eclipse in May will have a penumbral magnitude of 0.9655, which means that observers will be able to see it without any additional equipment. To learn more about the magnitude of the eclipse and to get the timeline of the eclipse, read our dedicated article.

Full Moon vs. Penumbral eclipse
Left, a normal Full Moon. Right, a Full Moon during a penumbral eclipse.

Comets in May 2023

There are no forecasts about prominent comets visible to casual observers in 2023. To see a truly fascinating show in the sky, wait until 2024. But if you don’t want to wait, here are some noteworthy targets that can be seen tonight with special equipment.

If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, you can see C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) this May. Until the middle of the month, look for the comet in the evening, high above the western horizon; C/2017 K2 will shine at a magnitude of about 8. Then it will also be visible in the morning. To find the comet in the sky, use the Sky Tonight app.

C/2021 T4 (Lemmon) is visible from May to September for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. The comet is on its way to make its closest approach to the Sun on July 31, 2023. The closest approach to the Earth will occur 11 days earlier, on July 20. The comet is currently at magnitude 13-12, but may reach magnitude 8 by then.

Another observation target is 81P/Wild. It is still close to the Earth and therefore remains relatively bright — the comet has a magnitude of 13. It’s visible from both hemispheres, but from the southern latitudes, 81P/Wild rises higher in the sky.

Two comets will reach perihelion this May — C/2020 K1 (PANSTARRS) on May 9 and 237P/LINEAR on May 14. C/2020 K1 (PANSTARRS) may reach a magnitude 11 or brighter, while there are no exact predictions for 237P/LINEAR. During the last perihelion in 2016, it brightened to a magnitude of 10. C/2020 K1 is the target for southern latitudes only, and 237P/LINEAR is visible from both hemispheres, but Southern Hemisphere observers will have it at a higher altitude.

Comet C/2017 K2
Comet C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS)

Meteor Showers in May 2023

Two meteor showers reach their peak of activity in May 2023: Eta-Aquariids on May 6 and Eta-Lyrids on May 10. During the peak of the strong Eta-Aquariids, stargazers in the Southern Hemisphere can usually see up to 50 meteors per hour. Moreover, this year, there are forecasts for enhanced activity — the stream might produce up to 120 meteors per hour! But the Full Moon will interfere with the observations.

Eta-Lyrids are way weaker; they produce up to 3 meteors during maximum activity. Considering the 77% illuminated Moon on May 10, they won’t become an entertaining show. Learn when to see “shooting stars” in our meteor shower calendar.

Meteor showers observations
To see a meteor shower, you don't need any special equipment. Just go outside (grab a blanket to lie on or a reclining chair to sit in) and wait for a “shooting star”.

How to navigate the night sky?

The easiest way to navigate the night sky is with an astronomy app. Such an app helps you to identify or find a celestial object, learn when it's best to see it, and more. If you're a casual observer interested in finding stars, planets, and constellations, use the Star Walk 2 app. It has beautiful graphics and soothing music, making stargazing a more immersive experience.

Star Walk 2 Sky
Identify stars and planets with Star Walk 2.

If you need an advanced tool for exploring the night sky, use the Sky Tonight app. It has one of the largest free databases of space objects among stargazing apps. Without purchasing additional content, you can find galaxies, comets, asteroids, nebulae, and other celestial objects. Plus, Sky Tonight lets you set reminders, schedule observations, view visibility graphs, and more.

Sky Tonight Sky
Explore the night sky with Sky Tonight.

Bottom Line

In May 2023, see all the Solar System planets, two meteor shower peaks, several comets, and a penumbral lunar eclipse. To find these objects and events in the night sky, use Star Walk 2 or Sky Tonight apps. Wishing you clear skies and happy observations!