If you see any “stars” whizzing by this spring, they are certainly not stars. They could be meteors, but more likely, a cascade of fireflies.

One time while looking at the stars I had one of them INSIDE my reflecting telescope’s tube (a firefly- not a star!). That brightened up my view!

Fireflies, or lightning bugs, seem to be more common in June, at least where I live. It’s an amazing sight in a starry night to have the stars above, and the fireflies lit up and darting around the yard.

Even without fireflies, the entire month of May brings a night sky blossoming with wonder.

Warmer weather brings more people outside even at night as we take another look up at our faithful constellation friends.

You don’t need a telescope to celebrate the spring stars. A menagerie of constellations associated with this season are now in view, with a few bright and colorful stars.

Up high in the south on May evenings is the constellation Leo the Lion. Its brightest star, Regulus, is on the right.(This article assumes you are observing from the Northern Hemisphere. From below the equator, Leo would seem to be upside down from what we’re used to seeing and Regulus is on the left!)

Look over to the west, down low, in mid-evening. The bright red star Betelgeuse, part of the famed constellation Orion best known in winter, is sinking down; in June Orion’s stars will be hidden by the Sun’s glare.

The Big Dipper in early May is at its highest at about 9 p.m., appearing to empty its bowl full of stars down on the North Star. Be sure to take a closer look at the middle star in the Dipper’s “handle.” It’s name is Mizar. If your eyesight is reasonably good, you should be able to see a fainter star right next to Mizar. This is Alcor. Binoculars will show it right away. If you have even a small telescope magnifying about 40x or more, swing it over to Mizar and Alcor. In the eyepiece, Mizar and Alcor are widely separated, and a dimmer star is over to the side. Look carefully at Mizar again! Mizar is revealed to be a double star, two stars that travel space together bound by mutual gravitation and we’d like to think, affection.

Look at the front stars of the Big Dipper; with binoculars you will see that the one at the tip of the “bowl” is reddish; it’s name is Dubhe.

The two stars in the bowl’s front act as pointers, straight down to the North Star.
Follow the handle of the Big Dipper in a sweeping arc to the east and you will see the bright orange star, Arcturus. Continue this curve southeast to a bright blue-white star, Spica. Arcturus is the brightest star (the “lucida”) in the constellation Bootes the Hersdman. Spica is the lucida of Virgo the Virgin.

Overwhelming Spica this year (2017), however, is the brilliant planet Jupiter, only a few degrees above the star.

Look down from Spica and to the right for a small but easily noticed constellation, Corvus the Crow. Its four main stars form a lopsided square.

Full Moon occurs May 10th.
Keep looking up!

Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at news@neagle.com. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.