On Friday and Saturday nights, the Moon, thicker now, joins the Mars-Pollux-Castor lineup. (These scenes are drawn for the middle of North America. European observers: move each Moon symbol a quarter of the way toward the one for the previous date.)
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
(about magnitude 0.5) is having its best evening apparition of the year. Look for it shining low in the west-northwest as twilight fades. See article
On May 2nd and 3rd, Mercury passes left of the Pleiades. Aldebaran sparkles much farther to Mercury's left or by late in the week, lower left.
Venus is lost in the glare of the Sun.
Mars (magnitude +1.2, in Gemini) shines high in the west after dark, left of Pollux and Castor. On May 4th the three form a straight line. After that, watch as the line lengthens and curves day by day. Mars is moving to the upper left in the direction of Saturn and Regulus.
Compare Mars's color to that of Pollux, an orange giant star of spectral type K0 III. In a telescope Mars is a minuscule 5.6 arcseconds wide.
Jupiter (magnitude 2.4, in eastern Sagittarius) rises around 1 a.m. daylight saving time. It glares in the south at dawn. (The table of Jupiter's satellite phenomena in the May Sky & Telescope is incorrect; use our corrected version here.)
Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in Leo) glows high in the southwest after dark, just 2¼° from fainter Regulus (magnitude +1.4). The two of them are quite the eye-catching couple! They'll remain nearly this close all month.
Telescope users: can you see the pair of white storms on Saturn? How big a telescope do you need? See the picture caption at the bottom of this page to predict when they'll be turned into view (which happens at least twice a day.)
There's more to Saturn than you may realize. See our Saturn observing guide in the April Sky & Telescope, page 66.
Uranus and Neptune are low in the 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.
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