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Planetary mosaic, artist's depiction.

Planetary Showdown Spices Up May Skies

ICTMN Staff
5/10/14

Now that the Eta Aquarid and Lyrid meteor showers have passed, the sky is a tad quiet for the next few weeks.

Or is it?

For those intent on star gazing, there is always something to see. Fleet-footed Mercury will make an appearance this weekend—Jupiter will point the way—and Mars the Red Planet will dance with the moon.

“Bright Mars shines left of the Moon,” notes Sky and Telescope. “Although they look rather close together, Mars is 260 times as far away—and twice as big in diameter.”

Elusive Mercury is ripe for peak viewing in the next couple of weeks, Universetoday.com tells us.

“Don’t let furtive Mercury slip through your fingers this spring,” Universetoday.com says. “The next two and a half weeks will be the best time this year for observers north of the tropics to spot the sun-hugging planet. If you’ve never seen Mercury, you might be surprised how bright it can be. This is especially true early in its apparition when the planet looks like a miniature ‘full moon.’ ”

To view Mercury, Universetoday.com instructs, find a place with a completely unobstructed view of the northwest horizon and start looking for Mercury 30 to 40 minutes after the sun sets, looking toward our star’s afterglow. Especially this weekend, Mercury is nearly full.

“Reach your arm out to the northwestern horizon and look a little more than one vertically-held fist (10-12 degrees) above it for a singular, star-like object,” Universetoday.com says. “Found it? Congratulations—that’s Mercury!”

Other planets giving us a show this week include Saturn and the ever dependable Venus. The Lord of the Rings, as Saturn has come to be known, is at its most visible for this year, Astronomy.com tells us. Appearing low in the southeast as twilight ebbs into darkness, it will climb higher and become more and more prominent, Astronomy.com says. This is on Saturday May 10.

On Sunday the 11th, and throughout the week, Venus will shine especially brilliantly from 4 a.m. for about an hour and a half.

But if soaking in these sights seems a bit tame, stay tuned later this month for a possible brand-new meteor shower, according to NASA. 

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