From around the world tonight – May 5, 2018 – if you’re a night owl, you might catch the moon and the red planet Mars climbing above your eastern horizon before your bedtime. From mid-northern latitudes (U.S., Canada, Europe and Russia), the twosome won’t rise until after midnight. From the Southern Hemisphere, they’ll will be up by late evening. Click here for recommended sky almanacs; they can give you the rising time of the moon and Mars in your sky.
Or … get up before daybreak to see the waning gibbous moon and Mars. They’ll be highest up for the night around dawn.
Mars is the planet to watch in 2018. By July, it’ll be brighter in our sky than it’s been since 2003. The chart below shows the cycle of oppositions for Mars, and why, every 15 or so years, we see Mars as brightest:
What’s more, you’ll see two other bright planets in the predawn sky: Saturn and Jupiter.
Golden Saturn gleams close to Mars before dawn.
Cream-colored Jupiter is farther away from Mars and the moon in the May 6 morning sky, but Jupiter is unmistakably bright. In fact, in May 2018, dazzling Jupiter shines nearly all night. Watch for Jupiter in your eastern sky at nightfall. Then watch for Jupiter to climb highest up for the night around midnight and to sit low in the west at morning dawn. Earth will fly more or less between Jupiter and the sun – bringing Jupiter to its annual opposition – on May 8-9.
If you live in the Southern Hemisphere or the northern tropics, you also have a reasonably good chance of catching Mercury, the innermost planet of our solar system. Look east, near the sunrise point on the horizon as the predawn darkness is giving way to morning dawn. The moon will be in the vicinity of Mercury on May 12 and 13, as shown on the charts below. Note that the first chart is for the Southern Hemisphere. The second chart is for the Northern Hemisphere, where the view is nowhere near as good:
You can also see Venus, the brightest planet of all, for an hour or two in the evening sky this month. Venus shines opposite of Jupiter at evening dusk in May 2018, and sets beneath the western horizon by nightfall or early evening.
Bottom line: Don’t miss the moon and Mars together in the predawn sky on May 6, 2018. Plus a word about other bright planets you can see in May.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.