From Moon to Jupiter: Astronomy Highlights
The Moon remains a pretty sight during the evening all week, while Mercury continues the dance with brighter Venus. Moreover, early risers can enjoy the bright gas giant planets. Read on for astronomy highlights from May 18 to 23, 2021!
The Moon this week
The Moon will be perfectly positioned for viewing all over the world. You can look for it in the daytime sky, or wait until the sunset and enjoy the Moon after dinner!
From Tuesday to Thursday this week, our natural satellite will cross through the stars of Leo. The Moon will officially complete the first quarter of its orbit around the Earth at 3:12 p.m. EDT (19:12 GMT) on Wednesday. At that time, the relative positions of the Earth, Sun, and Moon will cause everyone on the Earth to see it half-illuminated. The terminator will temporarily become a straight line. During the coming weekend, the now gibbous — more than 50%-illuminated — Moon will traverse the constellation Virgo.
The bright planets
May has been Mercury Month for Northern Hemisphere observers! The planet’s position has been giving us our best opportunity of the year to see the speedy planet after sunset. Observers in the Southern Hemisphere aren’t so lucky, however.
Mercury is sharing the sky with much brighter Venus. On each subsequent clear evening this week, Mercury will drop lower, and Venus will climb a little higher. Both planets will remain easily seen for most of this week, especially between about 9:30 and 10 p.m. local time.
When the sky has darkened after 9:30 p.m. local time, look up the western sky for the reddish dot of Mars. Castor and Pollux, the bright twin stars of Gemini will be shining above Mars, too — and the Red Planet is making its way towards a rendezvous with those stars in early June!
Saturn and Jupiter are continuing to shine in the southeastern pre-dawn sky. Those two planets will start to become visible in the late evening towards the end of June! This week yellow-tinted Saturn will rise within the stars of Capricornus at about 1:30 a.m. local time and should be easily visible until almost 5:00 a.m.
On Sunday, May 23, Saturn will cease its regular eastward motion through the stars of Capricornus and begin a retrograde loop that will last until mid-October. You can observe the planet’s direction change by noting how Saturn’s distance from the nearby bright star Theta Capricornus varies over several days.
Much brighter and whiter Jupiter is positioned among the stars of Aquarius about 17° to Saturn's celestial east. The separation between the two planets will increase slightly every morning. This week Jupiter will rise at about 2:20 a.m. local time and will be easy to see until almost sunrise, which will be happening at about 5:45 a.m. local time.
These were astronomy highlights for this week. To find in the sky all of the above-mentioned celestial objects and more, use the stargazing guide Star Walk 2.
Wishing you clear skies and happy stargazing!