How low can you see to your north horizon? That's where you'll find W-shaped Cassiopeia around 10 or 11 p.m. this week. If you're far enough north, that is! From the latitudes of Atlanta, Houston, and San Diego, part of the Cassiopeia W will be below the horizon. From South Florida, the W goes below the north horizon completely.
Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly foldout map in each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of maps; the standards are Sky Atlas 2000.0 or the smaller Pocket Sky Atlas) and good deep-sky guidebooks (such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the even more detailed Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the enchanting though increasingly dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook). Read how to use them effectively.
More beginners' tips: "How to Start Right in Astronomy".
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is still in its highest evening apparition of the year (for skywatchers at mid-northern latitudes). Look for it fairly low in the west-northwest as twilight deepens. But Mercury is fading now, from magnitude 0.1 on May 9th to +0.8 on the 17th. See our article.
Venus is hidden in the glare of the Sun, and will stay so for months to come.
Mars (magnitude +1.3, in Cancer) shines high in the west after dark, to the upper left of the Castor-and-Pollux pair. Each week, Mars is moving farther away from them and closer to the Saturn-and-Regulus couple, which is still well off to Mars's upper left. Mars will meet up with them in early July.
In a telescope Mars is a minuscule 5.4 arcseconds wide. Don't bother.
Jupiter (magnitude 2.5, in eastern Sagittarius) rises around midnight or 1 a.m. daylight saving time. By dawn it's glaring at its highest and best in the south. (The table of Jupiter's satellite phenomena in the May Sky & Telescope is incorrect; use our corrected version.)
Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in Leo) glows high in the southwest after dark, just 2¼° from fainter Regulus (magnitude +1.4). They're quite the eye-catching couple. They will remain nearly this close all May.
Telescope users: can you see the pair of white storms on Saturn? How big a telescope do you need? To predict when they'll be turned into view (which happens at least twice a day), see the picture caption at the bottom of this page.
There's more to Saturn than you may realize! See our Saturn observing guide in the April Sky & Telescope, page 66.
Uranus and Neptune (magnitudes 6 and 8, respectively, in Aquarius and Capricornus) are still low in the east and southeast before dawn.
Pluto (magnitude 14.0, in northwestern Sagittarius) is highest in the south before dawn's first light. If you've got a big scope and ambition to match, see our article and finder chart.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon or zenith including the words up, down, right, and left are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) equals Universal Time (UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.
"Rational and innocent entertainment of the highest kind."
John Mills, 19th century Scottish manufacturer and founder of Mills Observatory, on amateur astronomy.
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