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.
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In the Sky This Month
May 27: Arcturus
The giant star Arcturus adds a splash of color to the sky tonight. It is two-thirds of the way up the southeastern sky as darkness falls, and shines with a distinctly yellow-orange hue. It’s the brightest star in Bootes, the herdsman.
May 28: Last-Quarter Moon
The Moon reaches last quarter at 7:12 a.m. CDT tomorrow, as it lines up at a right angle to the line between Earth and the Sun. Sunlight will illuminate about half of the lunar disk as the Moon rises in the wee hours of the morning.
May 29: Ursa Major
Ursa Major, the great bear, is high in the north this evening, and rotates to the northwest after midnight. Its most prominent stars form the Big Dipper. The dipper’s bowl forms the bear’s hindquarters, while the handle forms its tail.
May 30: Saturn Opposition
The giant planet Saturn will reach opposition on Friday night, standing opposite the Sun in the sky. It will rise at sunset and remain in the sky all night. It will be closest to Earth shortly after opposition, so it is shining brightest for the year.
May 31: Saturn Opposition II
Saturn is putting on its best showing of the year. It rises at sunset, remains in view all night, and is brightest for the year. It looks like a bright golden star low in the southeast at nightfall. It stands to the lower left of brighter Mars.
June 1: Vega
Vega, one of the brightest stars in the northern sky, stands low in the northeast at nightfall and climbs high overhead later on. A disk of dust surrounds the star. It may be the debris from collisions between asteroids or even planets.
June 2: Vanishing Twins
Pollux and Castor, the twins of Gemini, are getting ready to vanish in the evening twilight. They stand side by side in the western sky as night falls like a pair of celestial eyes, with Pollux to the left. They’ll disappear from view by month’s end.