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Two evening stars, two morning stars and Mars Five bright planets in May

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You shouldn't miss two pairs of planets in May: Venus and Mercury shine as bright evening stars, Jupiter and Saturn as mighty morning stars. And Mars also continues to accompany us.

From: Heike Westram

Status: 04/30/2021

The first lights that you see twinkling in the starry sky in the evening are often not stars, but planets. Because most planets shine much brighter than all stars because they are comparatively close to us and strongly reflect sunlight. Since the planets orbit the sun at different speeds, they move steadily through the constellations and compete with each other. Every month they stand a little differently, every evening they hike a little.

The planets in May at a glance

In May, just after sunset, you can discover Venus and Mercury, the innermost planets. Shortly afterwards, Mars also appears in the evening sky, but it is becoming increasingly thin. The morning duo Jupiter and Saturn, on the other hand, is becoming more and more magnificent.

As soon as the first twilight sets in after sunset in May, you can see the first two planets: Mercury and Venus are in west-northwest over the horizon. At the beginning of the month, the two little lights are still timid and a little difficult to spot - and probably not at the same time. While the brighter Venus is visible before nine o'clock, but then stands too low, the darker Mercury does not peel itself out of the dusk until nine o'clock, but can be seen until half past nine. But you need a very clear sky and a clear view of the horizon - and for Venus probably a pair of binoculars.

Venus and Mercury in the evening in May

Every evening the conditions get better, because from our point of view Venus and Mercury move further and further away from the sun and when it sets are each evening a little higher than before. The map always shows the positions of the two planets 35 minutes after sunset. Mercury rises steeply and is visible for a few minutes longer evening after evening, Venus improves a little more slowly.

Crescent moon near Mercury and Venus

Thumbs up: taking measurements in the sky

The sight of the evening stars on May 13th is particularly beautiful, because the gossamer crescent moon joins the two planets and is only a finger's breadth away on the left under Mercury, four fingers on the left above Venus. The moon can be seen again for the first time after the new moon and is only two percent illuminated - a narrow line. The following evening the crescent moon is about a hand's breadth above Mercury.

The innermost planet has almost reached its highest position after sunset in the middle of the month and can now be found until almost half past ten at night. By then, Venus has long since set. Mercury is getting darker and darker: While it reached an apparent brightness of -1.1 mag at the beginning of May, Mercury only has 0 mag apparent brightness on May 13th. For comparison: Venus, the brightest of all planets, is then with -3.9 mag four size classes brighter than Mercury and therefore easier to find, although it is lower and therefore less favorable.

Venus and Mercury in the evening sky

After May 18, Mercury will sink rapidly lower. Because it also gets darker every evening, it will soon no longer be found after May 20th. On May 29th, he reached Venus and roams right past her, but at best can be observed in good binoculars. Venus, on the other hand, will accompany us over the next few months as an increasingly splendid morning star. At the end of May you can see its radiant light over the horizon by a quarter past ten.

Your most beautiful planet photos

Planet Uranus on December 26th, 2020, photographed by Jozef Borovsky. The gas planet is so far from Earth that even in telescopes it can at best be seen as a tiny disc. A Newtonian telescope 150/1200, a planetary camera and a double Barlow lens, which doubles the telescope's focal length, were used for this recording.

The red planet Mars

Our neighboring planet Mars is still with us in May, but it lingers less and less in the evening sky. It becomes visible shortly after the end of civil twilight, but it is nowhere near as bright as Mercury two to three hand's breadths to the right below it. At the beginning of May, Mars can be seen from just after nine o'clock in the evening, at the end of the month only three quarters of an hour later, as the days get longer and it gets dark enough later. At the end of May, the planet is only visible for a good one and a half hours, because at a quarter past eleven, Mars is gradually sinking into the layers of haze, while at the beginning of the month it can still be found until after midnight.

Mars moves through the twins

Mars in May

Mars is very fast and moves far across the sky during the month. You can see this very well in May, because the planet wanders once across the constellation Gemini. It begins about a hand's breadth away from the star Elnath and ends at the end of May close to the two brightest stars Kastor and Pollux, with which it forms a conspicuous arc. Mars is on the far left in the triumvirate, and Pollux is beaming to the right, not three fingers away. With an apparent magnitude of 1.14 mag, the star is slightly brighter than Mars, which only reaches 1.7 mag. Kastor, on the far right in the row, is even lighter with 1.98 mag.

The still very young crescent moon approaches Mars from the bottom right. On May 14, it is almost in the middle between Mars and Mercury, which can be seen about two and a half hand's breadths away on the right under Mars until about half past ten. The moon is a hand's breadth away from Mercury that evening, and one and a half from Mars.

On May 15 and 16, the moon is only about three fingers' breadth away from Mars - first to the right below the planet, in the evening to the left above it. Then the earth's satellite moves away again: On May 17th, it can be seen almost two hand's breadths above Mars.

Jupiter and Saturn in early May

The two bright morning stars will probably miss most in May. Only sleepless night owls and extreme early risers get to see Jupiter and Saturn. Because the two planets appear at the beginning of May at four in the morning over the horizon in the southeast. And already at a quarter past five it will be too bright for Saturn, for Jupiter about a quarter of an hour later. At the end of the month, the times are not much cheaper: Now both can be seen from around two in the morning, but only until shortly after half past four.

Jupiter and Saturn to the left of the Milky Way

But if you are out and about at the time, you cannot overlook them: At dawn, the two stand like a bright, bright colon - about a hand and a half apart. Jupiter, the left of the two, is by far the more conspicuous: with an apparent brightness of -2.3 mag, it is three magnitudes brighter than Saturn with only 0.7 mag. Jupiter is also more than twice as large in diameter.

Due to its enormous brightness, Jupiter can be seen earlier and longer than Saturn, which is on the right above him and therefore actually more favorable. But Saturn rises earlier, but has to struggle much more with the haze of the horizon and the light of twilight than the brighter Jupiter.

Waning moon at Jupiter and Saturn

The moon wanders past the two planets twice in May: at the beginning of May, its waning disk approaches from the right. On May 2, the moon is still a good two hand's breadth away from Saturn, the next morning only half as far. On May 4th, the moon is below both planets, three fingers' breadth from Saturn, twice as far from Jupiter. On May 5th, the moon has already arrived to the left of Jupiter, three fingers' breadth away from the bright planet, after which it is clearly at a distance (see graphic above).

Jupiter and Saturn in late May

At the end of May, the waning moon approaches the planetary duo again from the right: in the morning on May 30th it is separated by a hand and a half from Saturn, at the end of the month it is only a good two fingers.

Invisible in the sunlight

Two planets remain completely hidden in May: Uranus and Neptune have just passed behind the sun and cannot be seen again yet.

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