From Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute
(May 1, 2013) – Astronomers at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute note that throughout the month of May three planets and the Moon perform a bit of a dance in the evening skies with the brightest planet of them all, Venus, and the second brightest, Jupiter, appearing to approach each other in the twilight.
The planet Jupiter has been in the early evening skies since last December. The romantics among us would say it has been our “Evening Star.” But now, as the Earth circles the Sun, Jupiter is quickly disappearing into the evening twilight. By the end of the month it will be lost only to reemerge in the morning twilight in late June. The brilliant Venus, on the other hand, is now emerging out of our evening twilight each night. On May 28 they pass in the night – well, at least in the evening twilight.
The fun part of all this is that throughout the month of May we can watch it happening. Right now, as the sky darkens after sunset, Venus is low in the west-northwest. Jupiter is rather obvious above and a bit to the left of this. As the nights go by, Venus will be higher and Jupiter lower. On the evening of May 10 a very thin waxing crescent Moon will join Venus low in the twilight. The next night our satellite will be between Venus and Jupiter and on the 12th will lie above both of them.
But wait! The fun continues. About the 19th we will see the elusive planet Mercury join the show. By the 24th Venus, Jupiter and Mercury will have formed a triangle low in the northwest. This triangle will remain, albeit it with its corners twisting around, for better than a week. By the last evening of the month the planets will have switched positions forming a line with Mercury on top, Venus below and Jupiter deeper in the twilight.
So, watch this dance of the planets throughout the month. You don’t even have to stay out late at night to enjoy it. On the contrary, you need to get out as the sky darkens for, as the sunset fades, these three will set for another 24 hours. Enjoy the show!
PARI is a public not-for-profit public foundation established in 1998. Located in the Pisgah National Forest southwest of Asheville, NC, PARI offers educational programs at all levels, from K-12 through post-graduate research. For more information about PARI and its programs, visit www.pari.edu. Follow PARI on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Astronomy_PARI. “Like” PARI on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Pisgah.Astronomical.Research.Institute.