Here are the monthly sky watch highlights. Each month, we share the wonders of the universe to help you explore the night sky from your own backyard. (Note: Times listed below are ET.)
by Bob Berman, as featured in
The Old Farmer's Almanac
Saturn remains splendid throughout this month and is out all night long. Jupiter is now getting low in the evening twilight. Mercury hovers to the right of returning Venus, only 7 degrees above the western horizon 40 minutes after sunset on the 23rd.
Venus closely meets Jupiter, a potentially spectacular sight even though both are near their minimum brightness, on the 27th and 28th. Mercury hovers just above them. However, the planetary trio sits just 6 degrees above the western horizon 40 minutes after sunset and thus requires an unobstructed skyline for viewing. They are easier to see from southern states.
Sky Map May 2013
Sky Maps courtesy of Jeff DeTray. Love astronomy? Visit Jeff's site at AstronomyBoy.com
Astronomer Jeff DeTray has created the sky map below to help you navigate the May sky. This month's highlights: Four planets in one night!
Begin your quest to see a quartet of planets with an easy one. Look south on any clear night in May, and find the planet Saturn, bright and beautiful, floating a bit to the left of the bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo, the Virgin. Although Spica is the 15th brightest of all stars, Saturn in May is brighter still. Saturn and Spica are the two brightest points of light in their part of the sky and so should be easy to spot.
This is also a perfect time of year to see the large constellation Leo, the Lion. The bright star Regulus lies at Leo's heart. In fact, the Arabic name for the star translates as "heart of the lion." It should come as no surprise that Denebola, the star at the other end of Leo, derives its name from the Arabic phrase for "tail of the lion." Leo is larger than you might think from looking at the map, so think "big" as you look for the celestial Lion.
More challenging is the tight grouping of three planets visible just after sunset during the last 10 days of May. Refer to the inset in the lower right corner of this month's map. There you'll see Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury as they appear on May 27 just as the Sun slips below the horizon in the west-northwest. You'll need a clear and unobstructed horizon, so look for a viewing location that is free of trees and buildings.
Although they are nearest one another on the 27th, Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury spend several days in close proximity starting about May 21. As the Sun sets, the first of the three planets to appear will be Venus, the brightest of all planets. Venus is so bright that it can sometimes be seen when the Sun is still in the sky. As the Sun dips farther below the horizon, the sky will begin to darken slightly, and Jupiter will appear, followed a little later by Mercury. The best view will come about 45 minutes after sunset, when the Sun has moved well below the horizon but Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury are still just above the horizon.
If you manage to see Mercury, you'll be in select company. Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and as such is usually lost in its glare. With Venus and Jupiter serving as guides, May 2013 is a golden opportunity to see elusive Mercury. And when you add easy-to-find Saturn, you'll be playing the Planetary Quartet!
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott's Skymap Pro
Explore the sky night from your own backyard. A printable black and white map is provided below!
Click for Printable Sky Map (PDF)
Just click, print, and bring outside!