Although Jupiter close to opposition may be stealing the other naked-eye planets’ thunder, there’s lots more to see if you’re an early riser on the weekend of 5–6 May. About an hour before sunrise finds Mars and Saturn less than the span of an outstretched hand at arm’s length apart in the UK southern sky, with the waning gibbous Moon acting as a convenient guide to each planet on successive mornings.
With the opposition of Jupiter occurring on 9 May, now is the time to ensure that your telescope is clean and collimated (aligned) to deliver the sharpest images of the solar system’s largest planet at its best. We tell you when and how to view Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and a wealth of Galilean moon phenomena throughout May 2018.
Observers in Western Europe looking at the rising full Moon low in the southeast on the night of Monday, 30 April will also see conspicuous planet Jupiter close by, the pair fitting comfortably within the field of view of typical binoculars. Jupiter is close to opposition (9 May) and we show you how to identify its four main moons.
Have you ever seen the closest planet to the Sun? If you wish to tick Mercury off your To-See list, particularly if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, now until the middle of May is the time to be scrutinising the eastern sky about an hour before sunrise. Mercury also has a close encounter with an old crescent Moon on 14 May.
If skies are clear between moonset and the first glimmer of dawn this weekend, you may get to see some celestial fireworks from the Lyrid meteor shower. While it may not be the richest of the annual shooting star displays, the Lyrids can deliver a few fireballs and a portion of these medium-speed meteors can leave glowing trains.
Observers in Western Europe should try to locate Venus low in the western sky an hour after sunset. The 3-day-old slim crescent Moon acts as a convenient guide, located some 12½ degrees (or half the span of an outstretched hand at arm’s length) to the upper left of the brightest planet on 18 April. Prominent star Aldebaran lies in the same low-power binocular field of view as the Moon too.
Early risers will already be aware that there’s currently a lot of planetary activity in the morning sky, but at dawn in Western Europe on Monday, 2 April, Mars and Saturn will be just 1¼ degrees apart and seen in the same field of view of telescopes at 30x magnification. The waning Moon is close by on the mornings of 7 & 8 April too.
Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet, is now visible low in the southeast three hours after darkness falls in the UK. Now’s the time to dust off your telescope, check its optical alignment and hone your Jovian observing skills – particularly since a series of double shadow transits of the planet’s large Galilean moons starts on 24 March 2018.
On Thursday, 22 March observers in the British Isles with clear skies can see the 5½-day-old setting crescent Moon pass in front of first-magnitude star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus soon after 11:30pm GMT. Depending on where you live in the UK, you might just see the star reappear again shortly before the pair set.
Mercury attains a greatest easterly elongation of 18 degrees from the Sun on 15 March, the innermost planet’s best evening showing for Northern Hemisphere observers for the entire year. From 12–20 March, planets Mercury and Venus remain just 4 degrees apart low in the west 45 minutes after sunset as seen from the British Isles.