May started with Mars and Jupiter next to each other in the morning sky a little before sunrise. Mercury was a little above them and Venus above it. A thin crescent moon passed by on the 1st and 2nd. Jupiter moved up and Venus moved down.
On the weekend of the 7th and 8th, Venus is left of Mercury, and Jupiter is about halfway between Mars and the Venus-Mercury pairing. Jupiter keeps moving toward the Venus-Mercury pairing until the 11th when, from left to right, you’ll see Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury almost in a line. Below them is Mars.
Venus and Mercury keep traveling together heading toward Mars, while Jupiter climbs above them all by the weekend of the 14th. Another week and Jupiter is above a grouping of Venus, Mercury, and Mars.
As I told you last week, viewers near the equator get the best show. Wherever you are, these four planets are rising close enough to sunrise you’ll need to be diligent in your search. Trees and buildings on your horizon are a menace. So are distant clouds in that direction. You may need binoculars to pick Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury out from the twilight behind them. However, Venus is naked eye bright. If you see it, there’s hope.
I highly recommend planetarium software to show you what the sky will look like before you go out. When you find super bright Venus, you’ll know whether to go up or down, left or right to find the other objects. A program like Stellarium lets you choose your viewing location to give you the most accurate sky replication. You can even choose surroundings to try to match your neighborhood. I always choose the view from the ocean, even though I don’t live on the sea. I get unobstructed horizons that way.
The show continues all month. If you’re up a little earlier than the four planets in our dance at dawn, you could try looking for Uranus and Neptune. They rise ahead of the other four. You’ll need binoculars or a telescope. Again, I recommend a planetarium program to show you where to look.
Maybe you’re wondering why Saturn wasn’t invited to the party. Saturn’s rising when the sun sets this month, so its show for the night is over with by dawn. If you missed the ringed planet at opposition last month, try looking at it now. The view will be almost as good.
If you don’t get to see the planets yourself, maybe you can console yourself with this picture: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap110507.html.
For what it’s worth, if you could look at the sky from Venus this month, you’d see Saturn, Mercury, and Earth in a grouping and Mars and Jupiter on the opposite side of the sky.
From Mercury, Saturn and Earth would appear together while Mars, Jupiter and Venus are grouped opposite them. From Mars, you’d see Venus, Mercury, and Earth together with Jupiter opposite them. Saturn would be in conjunction with the sun.