Night sky in May – southern hemisphere
Highlights: Mercury, Venus and Jupiter close in.
Here is a view of the night sky this month as seen from mid-southern latitudes such as Sydney (-33° 52′) in mid May, 2013, at 10pm local time.
The planets this month
Mercury is an elusive world but this closest planet to the Sun returns to the evening twilight sky in the last week or so of the month at magnitude -1.1. It sneaks past Venus on 22 May to make a pretty grouping with that planet and Venus for the remainder of May, low in the north-west.
Venus returns to the evening sky in late May too, shining at a brilliant -3.9 low in the north-west. Use it to locate Mercury just two degrees away on the 22nd, then watch its close encounter with Jupiter on the 28th when the planets are just a degree apart.
Mars is not observable this month, having passed on the far side of the Sun in April. It will return to visbility in the morning sky later this year. Find out more about Mars here.
Jupiter still shines at a conspicuous -2 magnitude, but it begins to slip away into the evening twilight as the month progresses after an impressive showing throughout the winter. Its little dance with Venus and Mercury will be interesting to view with binoculars in the last days of May, particularly the conjunction with Venus mentioned above on the 28th.
Saturn now dominates the night, having reached opposition in April when it lay on the opposite side of the sky to the Sun. Its southerly location in the Zodiac between Libra and Virgo favours southern hemisphere observers and the planet will offer a pleasing sight even through a small telescope. The spectacular ring system is now open wide enough that the famous gap in them called the Cassini Division should not be too difficult to discern.
Note: The sky will appear much the same from other cities at similar latitudes, such as Perth or Wellington, at around 10pm local time. Imagine holding it over your head so that the centre of the chart is the zenith and the edge runs all the way around your horizon. The sky appears the same at the start of the month an hour later and at the end of the month an hour earlier.
We use Virtual Sky, a customizable, browser-based planetarium, courtesy of Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network. Tip: The chart is interactive. Click on the date or location to the top left of the chart to view the sky at a different time or from another location. If you want to check out the sky as seen from the northern hemisphere, click here.