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 3: Evening Mars
Mars is pushing into the pre-midnight sky, getting brighter as it does so. Tonight, look for the orange planet quite low in the southeast by 11 or 11:30 p.m. The star Antares is close below Mars, with the planet Saturn farther to the lower left of Mars.
May 4: Mu Herculis
Like its constellation, Hercules, the star Mu Herculis is faint and difficult to find. Yet the star is of particular interest because in some ways it seems to be an older version of the Sun, so it’s had plenty of time to give rise to life.
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.