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Sonoma County Gazette
Guide to the Night Sky

Guide to the Night Sky

May 2, 2018
by Tre Gibbs


This month brings the prominent return of two of the brightest lights in the evening sky–Jupiter, The Roman King of The Gods, and Venus, The Roman Goddess of Beauty and Love. I say prominent because both have been in the sky prior to May, but now both will be visible in the early evening/twilight sky simultaneously, at least by month’s end.

Starting off in Taurus The Bull and mid month moving into Gemini The Twins, Venus, continuing her orbit around the sun, will appear to slowly climb higher in our skies until sometime around mid June, when she then begins a slow descent, heading back towards the Sun. Jupiter however, in the constellation of Libra The Scales, is low in the eastern sky at twilight, rising around 9:00 pm early in the month and 7:00 pm by month’s end. In fact, near the end of May, you can look west and see Venus, then turn around looking east and see Jupiter, both will be about the same distance above their respective horizons. They should be fairly obvious since both objects are the next brightest things in the sky after the Sun and Moon.

Mercury, The Roman Messenger of the Gods, will be lost in much of the Sun’s glare this month but Mars and Saturn, both in the constellation Sagittarius The Archer, are visible although they both rise much later than Jupiter. Early in the month, Saturn - The Roman God of Agriculture, rises around 1:00 am in the southeast, followed about an hour later by Mars rising around 2:00 am. By month’s end however, Saturn makes his way above the eastern horizon almost two hours earlier, rising around 11:00 pm, while Mars now follows Saturn a full two hours later, as the Roman God of War drifts further and further away from the quintessential ringed gas giant.

So, imagine yourself in space, above our Solar System, looking down at the Sun and all of the planets orbiting it. One thing you would notice is that all of the planets (and their moons) travel in the same plane around the sun. So here on Earth, that translates visually, to the Sun, Moon and planets all traveling the same path in the sky. As the moon orbits our Earth once every 28 (+/-) days, it appears to slip past the planets, thereby making the moon a great tool for finding these elusive wandering lights! (Note: the word planet is derived from the Greek word for “wander”, because the planets move or wander thru the sky.) In the wee hours of May 4th, 5th and 6th, look to the southeast between 3:00 & 4:00 am to see the moon travel with Saturn on 5/4, then travel between Saturn and Mars on 5/5 and finally, the moon hangs out with Mars the morning of 5/6. If that’s too early for you (it is for me), look low in the west all month long at the beautiful glowing Venus, which is so bright it’s often mistaken for a helicopter or airplane coming toward you. During the early evening twilight of May 17th, a thin crescent moon joins Venus low in the western sky. It will not be there long as both will set rather quickly. On the evening of the 27th (10 days later) the moon, continuing it’s eastward trek, is now paired up with Jupiter in the east. Look for both when it’s dark enough to see Jupiter’s bright glow.

On May 29th we will be treated to this month’s Full “Flower” Moon, marking the time of year when flowers spring forth in abundance. Since the moon is in constant motion around our planet, it’s only technically full for a moment - this month at 7:21 am - but will appear full to the casual observer not only the day of, but also the day before and the day after. Keep in mind that the moon rises approximately 50 minutes later each subsequent night (and/or day).

So that’s it for this month.  Next month is The Summer Solstice so stay tuned. Also, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me and I will do my best to answer all of your astronomical questions.

So until next month, KEEP LOOKING UP !


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