May Sky chart; Northern Hemisphere gazer's guide
All month: Months when the planets are at or close to opposition from the sun are particularly good for planet-watchers, and this is one. Saturn is at opposition on the 3rd and Mars on the 11th, and Jupiter arrives at its opposition in late June. Near opposition, the planets are with us virtually all night long, part of the early evening sky, then highest around midnight, and still with us at dawn. Though technically changing from morning to evening stars , they give us the best of both. This is because both in the evening and in the morning they are best placed opposite the twilight glow, where the sky is darkest and the planets appear brightest.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In May, Saturn and Mars are just rising in the east at sundown. About two hours later, they will be found easily above the eastern horizon, in line with and lower than the bright star Spica, in Virgo. Spica leads them out of the horizon and across the sky, Saturn following. At midnight, the same objects are high up in the south to the southeast. They stretch across the sky from Spica on the right, past Saturn, then Mars, and finally Jupiter, now clearly the brightest. Just before dawn, the string of bright objects descends from the south down toward the west. Begin with Jupiter, highest and brightest, then Mars , Saturn, and Spica lowest.
The best time of the month to see them is from the 14th to the 20th, when the nearly full moon passes them one by one.
(The events described in the calendar below are given in local time unless indicated otherwise.)
May 1: No moon tonight. It was new about an hour before midnight on Monday night, and tonight the crescent is too slim and sets too early to be seen as it drifts from Aries into Taurus.
May 2-3: The new crescent moon could be visible soon after sundown on Wednesday, and should clearly be visible on Thursday. It's in Taurus both nights , but twilight will overpower the Bull's stars. Saturn deserts the morning sky. Opposite the sun at about 3 a.m. Eastern standard time on the 3rd, it rises virtually at sundown and sets at sunrise both days, and technically becomes an evening star on the 3rd.
May 7: Look above the moon on the 7th for ''the sickle,'' the circular group of stars with bright Regulus at the end of the sickle's handle. These same stars are the head (the circle) and heart (Regulus) of Leo the Lion, and a triangle of three stars above them forms Leo's hindquarters and tail.
May 8: The moon is at first quarter at 6:50 a.m., EST. It's just above and to the right of Regulus late today.
May 10-11: You've surely seen that bright yellowish object brightening and rising earlier in the eastern sky each night. It's Mars, at opposition from the sun (at 4 a.m., EST on the 11th) as Earth passes between it and the sun. The gibbous moon, high in the south and well to the right of Mars, is at perigee (nearest earth) at about 10 p.m., EST, on the 11th.
May 12: The bright star near the moon tonight is Spica, in Virgo. To the left and lower you can find Saturn and Mars, with Mars by far the brighter. Then, after Jupiter rises about 11 p.m., it becomes the brightest.