In the News: Planets in the May Sky
May 12, 2017
This month brings Mars’ year-long evening sky show to a close, but Saturn moves in to take its place.
Our look at this month’s sky begins in the west, just after sunset. At month’s onset we find the dazzling stars of Orion the Hunter, with his signature 3-star belt. Orion and his accompanying constellations of winter are saying goodbye to the evening sky, not to return until next winter. By month’s end they are lost in the sun’s glare.
Also in the west is the planet Mars. Last month Mars sat side-by-side with the Pleiades star cluster. Unlike winter’s constellations, Mars won’t succumb to dusk quite so easily. The red planet’s orbital motion is causing it to shift eastward against the background stars, prolonging its eventual date with the setting sun. May opens with Mars sitting just to the right of another star formation, the V-shaped Hyades star cluster, punctuated by the bright reddish star Aldebaran. Mars defies the sun throughout this month, but next month it too finally departs from the evening sky. Look for Mars low in the west after sunset.
The mighty planet Jupiter’s incredible brightness makes it easy to spot in the southeast as darkness falls. Jupiter is well above the trees making this month prime time for viewing this far-off world. Aim a pair of binoculars at Jupiter and try glimpsing the tiny white dots next to the planet. Those would be Jupiter’s four largest moons. A small telescope brings them in closer and can even reveal some details on the planet’s surface.
Saturn joins Jupiter in the evening sky this month rising around 11 pm at month’s onset and before 10 pm by month’s end. Look for the ringed-world low in the eastern sky around these times. On May 13 a waning gibbous moon sits just left of Saturn, aiding in locating the gas giant planet.
Finally, Venus continues ascending in the morning sky before sunrise. Venus is easily located as the sky’s third brightest object behind the moon and sun.
Article Provided by: Brad Nuest, Space Science Educator