It sounds like a children’s book. But even we grown ups have to say goodbye to loved ones from time to time. On the night of May 7, the Moon and Mars pair up for a striking conjunction, and then we bid farewell to Mars and the winter stars. Here are viewing details.
Moon and Mars Conjunction
Just step out into the evening soon soon after nightfall on Tuesday, May 7 as the last fading fragments of twilight are welcoming in the night. You’ll want to find an unobstructed view of the horizon in the direction of sunset. (See sunset times for your area.)
Look in the direction of that twilight, or slightly to its left, and you’ll see the great Orion standing upright—a pose never seen during winter evenings. The ancient Hunter is tip toeing atop the southwestern horizon, his famous belt of three stars pointing leftward to blazing blue-white Sirius, the dog star, the brightest luminary of the deep, distant heavens. (See more about stargazing with Orion.)
Then, look for the returning crescent Moon in the western sky. The nearest medium-bright star to that Moon—just to its upper right—is Mars. (Learn more about planet Mars, Earth’s neighbor.)
This striking conjunction with the Moon is Mars’ Swan Song.
Mars’ Swan Song
That orange planet put on quite a show last summer but now it’s on the far side of the Sun and will soon vanish for the rest of the year, lost behind solar glare.
Now look a goodly distance to the lower left of the Moon, to a much brighter orange star. This is the famous Betelgeuse, the left shoulder of Orion. Of all the prominent stars in the heavens, Betelgeuse is probably the largest.
Put it this way: if we constructed a scale model with Betelgeuse a ball with a diameter equal that of a 22 story building, then on that scale our planet Earth would be the period at the end of this sentence.
You can still catch the crescent Moon passing the planet Mars on the evening of May 8. You may notice the earthshine lighting up the nighttime side of the Moon.
Then, we bid farewell to the planet Mars and the gorgeous winter stars for the rest of the year.
Is that enough shock and awe for one starry session? Then we’ll say goodbye to Betelgeuse as well.