May 22, 2021: Five planets parade across the sky. Jupiter and Saturn are in the southeast before sunrise. Evening Star Venus, Mercury and Mars are in the western sky after sunset. A bright moon is in the southeastern sky.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:24 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:11 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Five planets are visible in the sky today. Jupiter and Saturn are in the southeastern sky before sunrise. Venus, Mercury, Mars, and the moon are in the evening sky.
Bright Jupiter and Saturn continue to shine in the southeastern sky before sunrise.
Jupiter, brighter than all the stars in the sky this morning, is nearly 25° up in the southeastern sky at one hour before sunrise. It is trekking eastward through the dim stars of Aquarius. It is 2.2° to the upper left of Iota Aquarii (ι Aqr on the chart), 4.4° to the lower right of Ancha (θ Aqr), “the hip,” and 4.8° to the upper right of Sigma Aquarii (σ Aqr). The trio of stars is dim, easily observed with a binocular.
Saturn begins retrograding today. This is explained in another article.
The Ringed Wonder, dimmer than Jupiter, is over 17° to the upper right of the Jovian Giant and 0.6° to the right of Theta Capricorni (θ Cap).
Saturn seems to maintain the same gap with the star each morning, but the planet slowly begins to move farther westward (to the right) of the star.
Sunrise interrupts seeing all five planets simultaneously. Jupiter and Saturn set during the daytime, while Venus, Mercury, and Mars rise during the day and follow the sun westward.
After sunset, the gibbous moon – 84% illuminated – is nearly halfway up in the east-southeast sky. When the sky is darker, try to locate Spica (“the ear of corn”), 10.8° to the moon’s lower left, and Porrima, 4.6° to the upper right of the lunar orb. Topaz Arcturus, “the bear guard,” is higher in the sky, to the upper left of the moon and Spica.
At 30 minutes after sunset, brilliant Venus is over 7° up in the west-northwest. Mercury, leaving its best evening appearance of the year, is 5.8° to the upper left of Venus.
Mercury is dimmer and lower each evening. At tonight’s brightness, use a binocular to spot Mercury with Venus.
Venus as an evening star article.
Read more about Venus in our summary document.
By 45 minutes after sunset, Mercury is becoming visible to the unaided eye, although a binocular may be needed to initially locate it. This speedy planet is 3.7° to the lower left of Elnath, the northern horn of Taurus.
Mars, dimmer than Mercury, is over 25° to the upper left of Mercury, and over 30° to the upper left of Venus.
Venus is slowly closing the gap to the Red Planet. Venus passes Mars on July 12. Watch the gap between them close. Meanwhile, Mercury moves into the morning sky and back into the evening sky later during the summer. As Mercury has a difficult-to-see evening apparition, Mars is beginning to disappear into the evening twilight. Mercury passes Mars on August 18. On this evening there is a challenging observation to see all five bright planets and the moon in the sky together.
Here’s more about Mercury during May 2021.
By one hour after sunset, the bright moonlight tends to washout the dimmer stars. At this hour, Mars is less than one-third of the way up in the west, 7.6° to the lower left of Pollux.
Here’s more about Mars during 2021.
Find a detailed chart of the motion of Mars during the month here.
Venus sets 75 minutes after sunset, followed by Mercury about 30 minutes later. Mars sets over 3 hours, 30 minutes after sundown. Saturn rises over an hour after Mars sets to launch tomorrow’s planet parade.
Detailed Note: One hour before sunrise, bright Jupiter is nearly 25° above the southeastern horizon. The planet is moving eastward in Aquarius, 2.2° to the upper left of ι Aqr, 4.4° to the lower right of θ Aqr, and 4.8° to the upper right of σ Aqr. Saturn is 17.3° to the upper right of the Jovian Giant. Today the planet stops moving eastward and starts to retrograde. Retrograde motion is an illusion from our faster moving planet approaching and passing planets farther away from the sun. This morning, the planet is 0.6° to the right of θ Cap. At the initial stages, retrograde motion starts slowly. Then, Saturn appears farther west (to the right) of the star. Saturn retrogrades until mid-October. Until late June, the gap between Jupiter and Saturn grows as Jupiter continues its eastward trek. During late June, Jupiter begins to retrograde and the gap between the two planets closes somewhat. Three bright planets are visible after sunset. Begin looking about 30 minutes after sundown. The moon (11.3d, 84%) is nearly halfway up in the south-southeast. Brilliant Venus is over 7° up in the west-northwest. Use a binocular to locate Mercury (m = 1.1), 5.8° to the upper left of Venus. Fifteen minutes later, Mercury is visible to the unaided eye, 3.7° to the lower left of Elnath. Mars – nearly one-third of the way up in the west – is over 25° to the upper left of Mercury. The moon is 4.6° to the lower left of Porrima (γ Vir, m =3.4) and 10.8° to the upper right of Spica (α Vir, m = 1.0). One hour after sunset, look for Mars, 1.7° to the upper right of δ Gem and 7.6° to the lower left of Pollux. Venus sets 65 minutes after sunset; Mercury, 107 minutes; and Mars, 212 minutes.
Read more about the planets during May 2021.
During 2021 into 2022, Venus passes Mars three times for a triple conjunction. The first occurs on July 12, 2021. The others occur during early 2022, followed by a close approach of the two planets.
July 6, 2021: This is the second bright planet – planet opposition this month. Venus and Saturn are in opposite directions from Earth. Venus sets about the time that Saturn rises. After this date, Venus and Saturn together are in the evening sky until early 2022.
June 19, 2021: The waxing moon appears with Spica in the southwestern sky during the early evening hours.
June 26 – June 30, 2021: The bright gibbous moon passes Jupiter and Saturn in the morning sky before sunrise. Observe that the moon is in a different spot each morning, farther east toward the impending sunrise.
June 15, 2021: The moon is with the Sickle of Leo this evening. Step outside about an hour after sunset to find the crescent moon that is about 30% illuminated over one-third of the way up in the west.