BACKYARD STARGAZER: The moons of May, and other wonders

By Francis Parnell

It’s almost May and, if you’ve never seen it, a good time to spot Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.
Mercury is small, elusive, orbits the Sun every 88 days (four times a year) and speeds along at 106,000 miles per hour!
At sunset on the 1st, the waxing gibbous Moon is a few degrees above Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, the Lion.
On the 7th, the final Supermoon of the year rises at sunset and is 223,476 miles away. Watch it rise behind distant houses and trees and experience the Moon illusion.
Just before dawn on the 12th, Jupiter is 3 degrees above the waning gibbous Moon. Spot Saturn about 7 degrees left of Jupiter.
One hour before sunrise on the 14th, the last quarter Moon is about 8 degrees right of red Mars.
Thirty minutes after sunset on the 21st, look west-northwest to spot small, elusive Mercury only 1 degree lower left of bright, white Venus. On the 22nd, Mercury has moved a couple of degrees to the upper left of Venus. The two are close enough to give a great view in binoculars.
Looking west-northwest about 30 minutes after sunset on the 23rd, a very thin crescent Moon, about 32 hours old, is less than 5 degrees lower left of Venus, with Mercury about 5 degrees upper left of Venus.
It’s a challenge, but it’s fun spotting young moons.
On the 24th, the waxing crescent Moon, Mercury and Venus form a line about 12 degrees long just after sunset. Try to catch the trio before they set.
FAST FACT: Stargazing is a great way to relax, have fun, and forget the troubles of the day. Check out Sky & Telescope or Astronomy magazine websites. Download monthly star charts, learn how to buy and use telescopes, and find out about “what’s out there”!
As always, and especially now, “Keep looking up!”

Author: Stephan Drew

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