The planets are putting on a great show this month. The bright light you see in the west until about 11 PM is not a plane, satellite or UFO – its just Venus. Its about as bright and high as it gets appearing about 25 degrees above the western horizon at sunset. On the evenings of May 6th and 7th Mercury, the innermost planet, reaches greatest elongation (its distance from the Sun) and should be easily visible if you can see the western horizon. See the chart from Roen Kelly at Astronomy Magazine below for how things will look.
On the days before and after May 21st, Venus is joined by a thin crescent moon.
Saturn is also at its best in May, rising after sunset in the east and visible all night. Through binoculars or a small telescope you can easily make out its magnificent rings which are tilted at the best angle for viewing for several years.
Jupiter is still very visible high in the southwest after sunset. It sets around 2 AM and by June will be lost in the glare of sunset.
There is a minor meteor shower (the Eta Aquariid) on the night of May 6th but the glare from the nearly fool moon will wash out all but the brightest ones. You will have to look the east after 3:00AM to see anything. These meteors are caused by dust and debris left from the many trps of Halley’s comet through the inner solar system.
Thats all for this month.
Jim Stratigos – Resident Astronomer