FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS McDONALD OBSERVATORY, AS HEARD ON KCBS RADIO WEEKDAYS @ 9:52 A.M., 7:35 P.M. & 2:52 A.M.
STARDATE 5/16/2014: Four of the five planets that are easily visible to the unaided eye arc across the sky shortly after sunset the next few evenings. One of the planets sinks from sight quickly, but the other three stick around for a while.
Look low in the southeast as darkness begins to fall for Saturn, the second-largest planet in the solar system. It’s shining at its brightest for the entire year right now, and looks like a bright golden star. There are no other bright stars or planets close to it, so it’s quite easy to spot.
Mars is also easy to spot. It’s about half-way up the southern sky at nightfall, and shines with a brilliant orange hue. Only a few stars and planets outshine it, so it really stands out.
Planet number three is due west, and it’s the brightest of the bunch. Jupiter outshines everything else in the sky at that hour, so you really can’t miss it. It’s the largest planet in the solar system — a behemoth that really looks the part.
The smallest planet is Mercury, and it stands well to the lower right of Jupiter, quite low above the horizon. It’ll move a little farther away from the Sun over the next few days, so it’ll be a bit higher in the sky as night falls. Unfortunately, it’ll also grow appreciably fainter at the same time, so it won’t be much easier to find.
Mercury sets about an hour and a half after sunset. Jupiter sets by about midnight, with Mars and Saturn remaining in view for most of the night.