May Starwatch

by Deane Morrison

Against a backdrop of brightening May twilight, Venus and Jupiter enter the most dramatic phase of a months-long evening dance.

On May Day, nightfall finds Jupiter high in the southwest, just east of the Gemini twins, while Venus blazes away in the west. These planets are the two brightest objects in the evening sky, and their approach throughout the month will be easy to follow.

Jupiter does most of the moving. It is dropping toward the sunset as Earth leaves it behind in the orbital race. For now, however, Venus stays high above the horizon as the winter stars stream past, carrying Jupiter with them. During May, the stars of Gemini flow by Venus and the distance between Venus and Jupiter drops from 50 degrees to 20. The two planets end the month facing each other across the dim stars of Cancer; at the end of June they finally meet.

As Earth leaves Jupiter in the dust, it catches up to Saturn. On the 22nd, Earth sails directly between the ringed planet and the sun, an event called opposition because it places the planet directly opposite the sun in the sky. That evening Saturn rises in the east, close to Scorpius, and stays up all night. The best time to see it will be 12:30-1 a.m. on the 23rd, after the waxing crescent moon will have set.

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