Skywatching: May 29-30

Planet Quartet

Over the next few days, four out of the five naked-eye planets are visible in the evening sky. Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn are easy to find; Mercury is a bit of a challenge. Venus, the fifth naked-eye planet, is visible in the morning sky.

Shortly after sunset, look to the west to find brilliant Jupiter. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding it; it will be bright enough to shine through the twilight. To find Mercury, you will need a clear horizon and a little luck; binoculars will help. On Friday the 30th, you can see a thin crescent moon just above the horizon. Use the moon as a guide; Mercury will be a little point of light to the right, as seen in the Stellarium diagram below.

Jupiter and Mercury
Jupiter, Mercury, and the crescent Moon in the west after sunset on May 30.

Now swivel around to face the south-southwest. You should see three fairly bright objects in a diagonal line (see Stellarium diagram below). At the upper right is orange-red Mars. On the lower left is golden Saturn. Between them is the slightly fainter star Spica, which is nevertheless one of the brightest stars visible from Chicago.

Saturn, Spica, and Mars
Saturn, Spica, and Mars in the south on May 30, just after sunset.

This alignment won’t last long. Speedy Mercury will soon pass between Earth and the Sun, and we will lose it in the Sun’s glare. In a few weeks, we will lose Jupiter in the Sun’s glare as well, when Earth moves on the other side of the Sun from Jupiter. Saturn and Mars, however, will continue to grace the evening sky through the summer.

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