M A Y S K Y W A T C H
by Maya del Mar
However we look at the planets this month, Venus is the star. Perhaps it is preparing for its rare transit across the Sun on June 8.
Venus continues to shine brilliantly in the evening, and reaches its maximum brightness for this cycle on May 2. We have been seeing it blazing high in the western sky. However, it has passed its highest point, and is now quickly moving towards Sun, as it slows down and turns retrograde on May 17. Did you notice it turn away from its pursuit of Mars? Sun is the director of the show, and as the personal planets retrograde back to rejoin Sun, they get their new directions. Obviously Venus needs more coaching before she comes to her conjunction with Mars, which occurs in Scorpio on December 5. This important conference with Sun will occur on June 8.
Have you noticed that the evening Venus has appeared further north than it usually does? On May 5, Venus reaches its northernmost point in our sky, greater than at any time in the 20th century. This means it sets in the northwest really late.
Although Venus is pulling away from Mars, she remains close to Mars this month and we can still see faint reddish Mars to the upper left of Venus. Mars is so faint because it is far away, a great contrast to its brilliance two summers ago when it was very close to earth and retrograding in Sagittarius, where it spent months. Then it presaged the invasion of Iraq and the step-up of Israels war on Palestine. Perhaps now, with Venus pulling away from and outshining Mars, peace can come.
The ecliptic is the apparent path of the sun, moon, and planets. We can often trace it in the night sky as we observe more than one planet. If we have in addition a view of the moon, the ecliptic becomes very clear. As we move towards summer solstice, the ecliptic appears more northward in the northern hemisphere.
This month we have a spectacular planet show in the evening sky, shortly after sunset, which shows us the ecliptic clearly. Bright Venus is at the base. A little above and to the left is faint orange Mars. Above Mars and to its left is golden Saturn, also bright. On May 21 we have the very special sight of the baby crescent moon sitting between Venus and Mars. This is a rare and lovely configuration; dont miss it.
There are four bright stars nearby which are almost like a square enclosing and protecting the main players on the stage. Below and to the left of Venus, close to the horizon, is red Betelguese, of Orion. Above and to its left is the bright whitish star Procyon. Above Saturn is yellow Pollux, with its twin, Castor. And to the right of Saturn, and up and to the right of Venus, is golden Capella. All of these bright stars have been used for eons as navigational markers.
Jupiter is rising earlier and earlier, and shortly after sunset it becomes visible high in the south. Look above you in the early evening for a very bright sky guide. It is traveling near the bright star Regulus, in Leo. The first quarter moon on May 26 lies between Regulus and Jupiter. On the night of May 27, Jupiter lies to the right of the moon. Again, the ecliptic stands out clearly.
Mercury is low in the morning sky, very hard to see in the northern hemisphere, but high and visible in the southern hemisphere.
There are two comets in our skies now, one of them visible only in the southern hemisphere. Comets are unpredictable, and I dont know yet about their naked eye visibility. However, in the northern hemisphere there is a good chance that we can see Comet LINEAR beginning on the evening of May 6. From Los Angeles, it will stand about 15 degrees above the horizon. It will appear to the left of Procyon. It could be a good show, so look for news bulletins on it.
May provides us with another great month of sky watching!