Monthly Sky Guide: May 2002
A great month for skywatchers who will be treated to one of the most spectacular planet gatherings seen for many years. Enjoy the view!
JUPITER in Gemini remains well placed for telescopic observation. Even a small telescope will reveal Jupiter's cloud bands and its four largest moons (first seen by Galileo in 1610). By month's end the giant planet will have faded slightly to magnitude -1.9.
VENUS, the brightest
planet, climbs higher into the evening sky as each day passes. The so-called "evening star" is sure to thrill many skywatchers this month as it experiences several close encounters with other celestial bodies. On May 5th Venus will form a compact triangle with Saturn and Mars, with Mercury a few degrees below. On May 10th brilliant Venus will be just 0.3 degrees away from much dimmer Mars. In fact, both planets will easily fit into the field of view of a low-power telescope. Now that's a rare sight! A few days later look for a spectacular close pairing with the crescent Moon (May 14th). Finally, on May 31st, Venus will form an eye-catching pair with Jupiter, the second brightest planet in the sky. Appropriately, the two brightest planets meet in Gemini, the classical constellation depicting the mythological twins.
MERCURY reaches greatest elongation on May 4th (angular distance from the Sun) and is therefore best seen early in the month. It reaches magnitude 0.0 on May 1st but then dims quickly--catch it while you can!
SATURN soon to be lost in the evening twilight. Look for it on May 5th using brilliant Venus as your guide.
MARS has faded to magnitude +1.6, its globe now appears less than 4 seconds of arc across (or 1/8th that of Jupiter).
Clear skies till next month!
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