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In the Sky This Month

Mars takes center stage this month. The planet shines brightest for the year, outperforming all but the Moon and Jupiter. Saturn trails close behind it, and it’s nearing its peak for 2016 as well. In the meantime, Virgo climbs higher into the evening sky, Leo begins to nose down toward the western horizon, and the twins of Gemini begin to disappear in the western twilight by month’s end.

May 5: Head Cases

The star Rasalhague represents the head of Ophiuchus, the serpent bearer, while Rasalgethi is the head of Hercules. Rasalhague climbs into good view in the east by 10:30 p.m., with fainter Rasalgethi above it. They are separated by about the width of three fingers held at arm’s length.

May 6: Mercury Transit

A tiny black dot will cross the face of the Sun early Monday: Mercury, the Sun’s closest planet. The entire event, known as a transit, will be visible across the eastern half of the United States, with the rest of the country seeing most of it.

May 7: Evening Moon

A vanishingly thin crescent Moon just peeks into view in the west as twilight begins to fade this evening. You will need a clear horizon to spot it. The Moon will climb higher on each succeeding evening, with the crescent growing fatter.

May 8: Mercury Transit II

The planet Mercury will transit the Sun tomorrow, looking like a tiny black dot crossing the solar disk. The transit begins at 6:12 a.m. CDT and ends five-and-a-half hours later. Don’t look at the Sun, however, because it’s dangerously bright. Instead, view the transit online.

May 9: Star Wheel

The Big Dipper and W-shaped Cassiopeia wheel around the Pole Star like a carnival ride. When one is high in the sky, the other sits atop the horizon. This month the Big Dipper takes the upper berth, standing high in the north during the evening.

May 10: Gamma Virginis

Virgo is well up in the southeast as darkness falls, marked by its brightest star, Spica. Another of Virgo’s stars, Gamma Virginis, stands high above it. Gamma Virginis is a binary system, and both of its stars shine pure white.

May 11: Moon and Gemini

The twins of Gemini line up well to the right of the Moon this evening. Pollux is the brighter of the stars, and stands closer to the Moon. Its “twin” is Castor, which is really a system of at least six stars.

Current moon phase

New MoonNew May 6, 2:30 pm

First QuarterFirst May 13, 12:02 pm

Full MoonFull May 21, 4:14 pm

Last quarterLast May 29, 7:12 am

Times are U.S. Central Time.

Perigee May 5

Apogee May 18

The full Moon of May is known as the Milk Moon, Flower Moon, or Corn Moon.