Fireflies, Flowers, and a Blue Moon: Here Are All the Natural Wonders Not to Miss in May
All you have to do to catch some of these incredible sights is go outside and look up.
In most parts of the country, especially those that experience full-blown winter weather, May is a magical time of year when the temperatures start to warm up, the flowers bloom, and you finally want to leave your couch to explore the great outdoors. There is no shortage of free activities happening around the U.S. in May to celebrate Earth’s rebirth, but why not explore the best of what the whole globe has to offer?
From colorful swaths of wildflowers to majestic celestial occurrences, we rounded up some of the most spectacular natural wonders happening around the world in May 2019. Check out the list below and prepare yourself to be fully awe-struck by nature’s spectacles.
Wildflowers in Southern California
Southern California might not be commonly known for a wide range of weather, but this vast region — spanning the Pacific coast all the way from Ventura down to the Mexico border — does, in fact, have distinct seasonal variation. One of the most stunning outcomes of the shift in climate is when the cooler, rainy season from roughly November to March gives way to an incredible display of vibrant wildflowers by May. Whether you choose to take a scenic hike or pack a picnic to a local state park, there are abundant opportunities to view the blooms across the Southern Coast. To maximize your viewing experience, use the “Wildflower Hotline” to plan your trip, which updates every Friday from March through May to give you the best locations for wildflower scoping.
Cherry Blossoms in Japan
In Japan, the arrival of cherry blossoms (known as Sakura) signifies the start of spring. Across the country, it is not uncommon for conversations at this time of year to be dominated by weather forecasts and comparisons of prime scoping locations, as viewing cherry blossoms has been a national pastime in Japan since the 8th century.
Prime cherry blossom season typically occurs in March and April, but in Northern Japan temperatures stay colder longer, so the flowering trees peak in visual splendor around May. Hakodate and Sapporo are two cities in the northern part of the country where you can catch this nationally beloved sequence of exploding buds followed by Sakura Fubuki, the delicate grand finale of pink leaves fluttering to the ground. The blossoms only remain in bloom for about two weeks, so make sure to time your visit right using an online forecaster.
Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower
Every year in early May, the earth travels through the debris left behind by Halley’s Comet and offers observers a long period of shooting stars in the night sky. Named for the brightest star in the Aquarius constellation, the prolific Eta Aquarid shower is expected to produce a shooting star around every two minutes. Unlike many meteor showers, the Eta Aquarids doesn’t have a short peak in activity. Rather, the spectacle of lights runs an impressive show of shooting stars for about a week, which will center around May 5 this year.
While the Eta Aquarid shower is most easily viewed from vantage points in the Southern Hemisphere, viewers in the north can still see quite a few meteors shooting through the dark night sky. You don’t even need fancy equipment to catch the show — a clear night sky, a secluded spot away from city lights, and some patience is all it takes. It will take about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness and start to spot the meteors flying in the sky, but don’t worry, the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to take it all in.
Fireflies in the Smoky Mountains
Whether you know them as fireflies or lightning bugs, there is no denying there is something captivating about the luminescent insects. For two weeks each year during peak mating season beginning in late May, the synchronous species of fireflies in Great Smoky Mountains National Park put on quite a show. To maximize their presence and attract female companions, male fireflies glow in sync for around 10 seconds at a time, then wait for a flashing reply. The end result is a stunning light show that ripples through the dark night sky from around 10 p.m. to midnight. The peak of the mating season varies from year to year depending on temperature and other environmental factors, so be sure to check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website for updated information as well as tickets and shuttle service to the best viewing spots.
Midnight Sun in Northern Norway
Often when exploring a new region of the world, travelers wish for more hours in the day. Well, above the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway, you can experience an extended twilight period over the summer months, when the sun hovers above the horizon but never dips below. The peak of this experience occurs in May and June in a natural phenomenon known as the Midnight Sun, when a golden glow washes over the country and lends a dramatic effect to kayaking, picnicking, or hiking in the scenic landscape studded with fjords and glaciers. In Svalbard, the northernmost inhabited town in the world, you can catch the Midnight Sun from late April to August. Described by some as a prolonged sunrise and sunset combined, the Midnight Sun is a unique opportunity to experience the nature and wildlife of the Arctic Circle in a different light (literally).
Seasonal Blue Moon
If you’ve been using the phrase “Once in a blue moon” your entire life without actually knowing what it means, you’re not alone. As it turns out, the idiom doesn’t actually refer to the hue of the moon, but rather to the rare occurence of a second full moon in one month. Even more uncommon than a blue moon is a seasonal blue moon, which is the third full moon in a single astronomical season. While the celestial particulars can get confusing, all you need to know is that the seasonal blue moons only occur once every two or three years, and the next one is coming up on May 18, 2019 — making this one lunar event you don’t want to miss.