16 May 2011
Planetary Lineup on May 21st
With all of the talk about May 21st, I felt it would be helpful to guide observers to a genuine, heavenly lineup that will create a beautiful pattern in the morning sky on the 21st and 22nd. During the entire month of May, the four nearest planets to Earth have been creating a beautiful sight in the morning sky just ahead of sunrise. On May 21st and 22nd, Mars, Mercury and Venus form a compact cluster. Bright Venus is the "guide star" to help you find this grouping in the east. You will want to look about 30-45 minutes before sunrise, and you will need binoculars to see Mercury and Mars, but Venus will shine brightly despite the glare of the soon-to-be-rising Sun. Jupiter is also quite visible in the sky, but each day pulls away to the upper right (toward the south-east) a bit more from the other three planets. Note that the image of the view toward the east, which comes courtesy of Sky & Telescope Magazine, demonstrates that astronomers are confident we'll have something to see the morning of the 22nd!