5 Sky Events This Week: Mercury Rises while Green Giant Poses

Uranus and its five major moons are depicted in this montage of images acquired by the Voyager 2 spacecraft back in 1986. This week the green ice giant is easily found thanks to its close encounter with Venus in the morning skies.  Credit: NASA/JPL
Uranus and its five major moons are depicted in this montage of images acquired by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986. This week the green ice giant is easily found thanks to its close encounter with Venus in the early morning skies. Image courtesy NASA/JPL

May’s moon pays a visit, pointing to bright evening celestial landmarks this week while our planetary neighbors put on a parade for sky-watchers.

Moon joins Spica. As the sun sets on Monday, May 12, you’ll find a waxing gibbous moon parked to the lower left of the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, the Maiden. The steely blue-white Spica sits nearly 250 light-years from Earth and will appear about 6 degrees away from our moon (a little more that the width of three fingers held at arm’s length).  

Moon Spies Saturn. By the next evening, Tuesday, May 13, the moon will sink closer to the southeastern horizon and perch to the upper right of the lord of the rings, the planet Saturn. For Northern Hemisphere observers, the cosmic pair will appear only 1 to 3 degrees apart. However for sky-watchers in Australia and New Zealand, the moon will appear to actually occult Saturn—pass in front of the planet and hide it. A chart and timetable are located here.

By Wednesday, May 14, the moon will reach a full phase and appear below and to the left of Saturn.

Venus and Uranus. Early risers on Thursday, May 15, can hunt down the very faint green planet, Uranus, thanks to the nearby super-bright fellow planet Venus.

This sky chart shows Venus and Uranus close to the eastern horizon before local dawn. You will need a very clear view of the eastern horizon with no obstruction to find the cosmic pair. They will only be about 10 degrees above the horizon - equal to the width of a fist at arm's length. Credit: SkySafari
This sky chart shows Venus and Uranus close to the eastern horizon before local dawn. You will need a very clear view of the eastern horizon with no obstruction to find the cosmic pair. They will only be about 10 degrees above the horizon—equal to the width of a fist at arm’s length. Image courtesy SkySafari

Jovian Shadows. Backyard telescope users looking at Jupiter late at night on Thursday, May 15, can watch Jupiter’s volcanic moon, Io, appear to transit in front of the gas giant from 9:41 pm to 11:57 pm EST. Io’s tiny but more visible shadow trails the moon, crossing the planet’s face from 10:42 p.m. to 12:59 a.m. EDT.

Mercury Getting Brighter. As evening twilight settles in on Saturday, May 17, look for the innermost planet to the sun, Mercury. The elusive, tiny world can be found hugging the northwest horizon and to the far lower right of the much brighter Jupiter. As the days and next few weeks pass, keep an eye on Mercury as it rises a bit higher and puts on its best evening appearance for 2014, in late May.

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Changing Planet

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.