BACKYARD STARGAZER: Mercury is the star during May

By Francis Parnell

May gives the best chance to spot Mercury this year, plus Mercury closely teams with Venus, and it’s the closest full Moon this year! Just before dawn on the 3rd, look south-southeast to see the last-quarter Moon and Saturn 6 degrees apart. Bright Jupiter is left of the pair. And on the 4th, the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn form a wide triangle above the southeastern horizon. At dusk on the 12th, scan low in the west-northwest to see a thin crescent Moon less than 1 degree from Venus. You’ll need a clear horizon, and binoculars will help. On the 13th at dusk, a slightly thicker lunar crescent is about 3 degrees upper left of Mercury. Find them in the west-northwest before they set. At sunset on the 15th, look west to spot red Mars less than 2 degrees left of waxing crescent Moon. At dusk on the 17th, look west-northwest to see Mercury at Greatest Elongation, 22-degrees east of the Sun. The Moon is at Perigee on the 26th, 222,020 miles away and is the closest and largest appearing full Moon of 2021. It’s also a Super Moon! Watch it rising behind distant trees and houses and experience the “Moon Illusion.” Native Americans called May’s full Moon the Flower Moon because flowers were blooming almost everywhere in the northern hemisphere. Looking west-northwest at dusk on the 28th, spot bright, white Venus with Mercury less than one-half of a degree to the left! Look along the twilight line to observe this very close conjunction of the two inner planets. Binoculars give an unforgettable view! One hour before sunrise on the 31st, yellow Saturn is 5 degrees upper right of the waning gibbous Moon. On June 1st, the Moon is about 4 degrees below brilliant Jupiter. Dark skies for us all, and “Keep looking up!”

Author: Stephan Drew

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