This month, stargazers have a chance to see the five brightest planets in the sky, weather permitting, as they make appearances in the evening after sunset or as predawn spectacles. And on occasion, the moon will pass by to enhance the celestial view. TheMay night sky planets
are Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, Venus and Mars, and all are shining bright this month. Here, we present a schedule below which provides some of the best planet viewing times as well directing you as to where to look to see them. Remember, that you can use your clenched fist at arm's length — equal to roughly 10 degrees of the night sky — to measure off angular distances. Thebrightest stars in the sky
are equal to first or zero magnitude, while the very brightest objects are of negative magnitude. Here's a look at when to see the brightest planets in the May night sky (note, all skywatching is dependent on your local weather conditions).Photos: Lunar Phases: The Changing Face of the Moon
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May 4 and 5:
As darkness falls, look westward to see a fat waxing crescent moon and about 8 degrees to its right is the brilliant planet Jupiter, shining at a magnitude -2
Jupiter and the moon shine together
roughly one-third up from the horizon to the point directly overhead and will set at around 12:45 you’re your local time. This is the last month (until September) in which this biggest of planets is high enough in a dark sky to permit crisp telescope views of its cloud patterns and four big satellites.Photos: Cosmic Hotshots from Keck Observatory
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May 10:Saturn reaches opposition
; it rises in the east-southeast at dusk, is due south in the middle of the night and sets in the west-southwest at dawn. Once it gains enough altitude, it appears similarly as bright as the zero-magnitude stars Arcturus and Vega. The planet's famous rings appear much more impressive than in recent years, since they are now tipped by 21.5 degrees from edge on.
Photos: Winter Treats for Amateur Astronomers
NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Bell (Cornell University), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute, Boulder)
Looking low toward the south-southeast early this evening, you'll see the waxing gibbous moon keeping company with a bright star and a bright planet. About 6 degrees to the moon's lower left is the bluish first-magnitude star Spica. And about 8 degrees to the moon's upper right is yellow-orangeMars
, now coming down in brightness from last month's opposition. Currently at magnitude -0.9, it's nearly half as bright as it was just one month ago; the Red Planet has receded to a distance of 63.8 million miles (102.6 million kilometers) from Earth. (Shown is a much closer view of the Red Planet.)Photos: Mind-Blowing Beauty of Mars' Dunes
May 13 and 14:
During the overnight hours watch how the moon's position relative to Saturn changes. At dusk on May 13, look toward the east-southeast. Saturn will appear about 5.5 degrees to the lower left of the moon.The moon
will move toward Saturn at its own apparent width (a half-degree) per hour during the night. So by dawn on May 14, the duo will be low in the west-southwest; the moon having moved to within 2.5 degrees to the lower right of the ringed planet. From the southern half of Australia, New Zealand and Victoria Land (Antarctica), the moon will occult (hide) Saturn. Shown: A closer view of Saturn.Photos: Enceladus: Saturn’s Snowball Ocean Moon
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Venus and a slender crescent moon make for an eye-catching celestial tableau inthe night sky
before dawn on this morning low in the eastern sky about 45 minutes to an hour before sunrise. Mercury also attains its greatest elongation — or greatest angular distance — east of the sun (23 degrees). This is Mercury's best evening apparition of the year; it sets about 100 minutes after sunset. An hour after sunset, look low above the west-northwest horizon; the speedy planet should be easily visible as a yellowish star shining at magnitude 0.6. Mercury will appear somewhat brighter up to two weeks before this date, and noticeably dimmer for about a week afterwards.Photos: First Photos from Mercury Orbit
Dennis di Cicco/Corbis
Photograph of a waxing crescent moon.
Having faded to magnitude +1.1, Mercury can be found about an hour after sunset roughly 7 degrees to the right and a bit above the 2.5-day-old waxing crescent moon.
If you have an amazing picture of Jupiter or any other night sky view that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmer's Almanac and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, N.Y. Original article onSpace.com
. Also on Space.com:Close Saturn, Planets and 2 Meteor Showers | May 2014 Skywatching Video
Best Telescopes for Beginners | Telescope Reviews & Buying Guide
Best Binoculars for Skywatchers and Observers
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