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Mercury

Mercury remains well placed in the morning sky during the first half of May for observers in the tropics and Southern Hemisphere. It is visible towards the east-north-east just before sunrise. The planet increases in brightness from mag. 0.0 on May 1st to mag. –1.0 on May 17th as it moves closer to the Sun in the sky.

For Northern Hemisphere observers, Mercury is poorly positioned in May. Despite a reasonable separation from the Sun at the start of the month, it rises only about half an hour before the Sun from London, England. For the remainder of the month, it remains close to the Sun and difficult to observe.

The planet reaches superior conjunction on May 27th and perihelion on May 29th. At perihelion it is located only 0.307495 AU (approx. 46 million km or 28.6 million miles) from the Sun.

Venus

Venus begins the month as a brilliant evening star, shining at mag. –4.7, setting four hours after the Sun in Northern temperate latitudes and nearly 2 hours for observers in the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere. On May 6th, a nice conjunction occurs when Venus passes only 49 arcminutes from mag. 1.7 star Elnath (beta Tauri). With a mag. difference of about 6, Venus appears more than 250 times brighter than Elnath!

The planet then draws rapidly towards the Sun as the month progresses and by the last week of May will be difficult to pick out against the bright evening twilight.

Mars

Mars has now completed its latest retrograde motion and is now moving direct in Leo. It is visible as soon as night falls and sets in the early hours of the morning. The planet has been moving back and forth in Leo for some time, but now its again moving eastwards the motion of the Red planet against the background stars is noticeably quick. At the beginning of the month Mars is only a few degrees from Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, by the end of the month the distance has more than doubled.

Position of Mars in Leo during May 2012

Position of Mars in Leo during May 2012 - pdf format

Mars shines at mag. 0.0 with an apparent diameter of 10 arc seconds on May 1st. However, the rapid increase in distance between Mars and the Earth is starting to take its toll; the mag. reduces by months end to 0.5 and the apparent size to 8 arc minutes. Consequently, seeing details with a small telescope may be difficult, although the northern polar cap should be visible at the end of the month.

Jupiter

Jupiter is in conjunction with the Sun on May 13th and is not easily visible this month.

Saturn

Saturn reached opposition last month and is still well placed for observation during May. The planet is moving retrograde in the constellation of Virgo just north of bright star Spica. At mag. 0.3, Saturn is brighter than mag. 1.0 Spica and appears more yellowish compared with blue-white Spica.

Position of Saturn in Virgo during May 2012

Position of Saturn in Virgo during May 2012 - pdf format

Through a telescope Saturn looks fantastic, the rings are tilted at 14 degrees and are a wonderful sight whatever size instrument you have. On May 4th and 31st, the Moon forms a nice triangle with Saturn and Spica.

Uranus

Uranus is a mag. 5.9 morning object but not easily visible from Northern temperate regions. Observers located in the tropics and Southern hemisphere fair much better with the planet visible up to four hours before sunrise on May 31st.

During May, Uranus crosses the boundary from Pisces into Cetus.

Neptune

Neptune is also a morning object and like Uranus, is much better placed when viewed from the Southern Hemisphere or the tropics. The planet is located in Aquarius and shines at mag. 7.9. From the Northern hemisphere it may be spotted an hour or so before sunrise at the end of the month. For Southern hemisphere observers, Neptune is visible as a morning object during May and rises around midnight on May 31st.

Solar System Data Table - May 2012

DateRight AscensionDeclinationMag.SizeIllum. (%)Distance (AU)Constellation
Sun5th May 201202h 49m 46.3s16d 18m 15.9s-26.731.7'1001.009Aries
Sun15th May 201203h 28m 50.1s18d 54m 28.2s-26.731.6'1001.011Taurus
Sun25th May 201204h 08m 51.1s20d 58m 47.0s-26.731.6'1001.013Taurus
Mercury5th May 201201h 28m 59.9s06d 29m 41.3s-0.36.1"701.103Pisces
Mercury15th May 201202h 34m 32.3s13d 28m 48.8s-0.95.4"861.241Aries
Mercury25th May 201203h 56m 02.4s20d 28m 03.5s-2.15.1"991.320Taurus
Venus5th May 201205h 23m 38.5s27d 49m 06.8s-4.739.9"230.418Taurus
Venus15th May 201205h 32m 57.1s27d 21m 54.0s-4.646.8"140.356Taurus
Venus25th May 201205h 25m 27.9s25d 56m 11.7s-4.353.7"050.311Taurus
Mars5th May 201210h 34m 28.2s11d 03m 34.9s0.19.6"910.974Leo
Mars15th May 201210h 43m 48.6s09d 46m 22.2s0.28.9"901.052Leo
Mars25th May 201210h 55m 48.2s08d 13m 59.3s0.48.3"891.132Leo
Jupiter5th May 201203h 15m 46.3s17d 15m 45.2s-2.032.9"1005.998Aries
Jupiter15th May 201203h 25m 22.4s17d 52m 43.6s-2.032.8"1006.010Taurus
Jupiter25th May 201203h 35m 01.3s18d 27m 37.5s-2.032.8"1006.002Taurus
Saturn5th May 201213h 35m 46.0s-07d 01m 19.5s0.318.9"1008.775Virgo
Saturn15th May 201213h 33m 17.4s-06d 48m 17.9s0.318.8"1008.846Virgo
Saturn25th May 201213h 31m 12.0s-06d 37m 56.8s0.418.6"1008.943Virgo
Uranus5th May 201200h 25m 50.4s02d 02m 10.4s5.93.4"10020.854Pisces
Uranus15th May 201200h 27m 30.6s02d 12m 43.8s5.93.4"10020.741Cetus
Uranus25th May 201200h 28m 59.1s02d 21m 58.3s5.93.4"10020.609Cetus
Neptune5th May 201222h 20m 13.2s-10d 58m 35.5s7.92.3"10030.294Aquarius
Neptune15th May 201222h 20m 45.4s-10d 55m 51.0s7.92.3"10030.130Aquarius
Neptune25th May 201222h 21m 05.4s-10d 54m 15.9s7.92.3"10029.962Aquarius