Winter's Curtain Call in the West,
Summer's Opening Act in the East.
This is your absolute last chance to see what's left of the brilliant winter constellations in the western sky. They're just about crashed in the low western sky, not to be seen again in the evening until late next autumn when they re-emerge above the eastern horizon. Since Christmas the bright constellation Orion and his surrounding posse of shining stars have been lighting up the evening skies, but they're getting the hook! As the Earth continues its annual journey around the sun, we're turning away from the direction of space occupied by Orion and company and are now pointing in the direction of the noticeably less brilliant constellations of springtime.
While there's still a little time left to see it after these later spring sunsets, Orion is already partially set in the west. You can still barely see the three bright stars in a row that outline the great hunter's belt hovering above the horizon. Above the belt is the bright star Betelgeuse, in the armpit of Orion.
The brightest member of Orion's gang right now is just renting out space.It's the extremely bright planet Venus, a next door neighbor planet to Earth. As bright as it is, Venus is not all that great of a telescope target because it has a permanent global cloud cover. The shroud of clouds is very reflective and the sunlight that bounces off of it makes Venus bright, but also hides the surface.
The planet Jupiter, over 480 million miles from Earth, is also leasing out space this coming May. It's the next brightest star-like object you can see in the southwest sky, to the far upper left of Venus.Through even a small telescope you can resolve the disk of the planet that's over 88,000 miles in diameter. You might even see some of Jupiter's cloud bands that stripe the planet. For sure you'll see up to four of Jupiter's brightest moons that appear as tiny "stars" on either side of Jupiter.
The bright constellation Leo the Lion shines just to the upper left of Jupiter. The right side of Leo is a distinctive backward question mark of stars with Leo's brightest star,Regulus, marking the period of the question mark. The backward question mark outlines the chest and head of the celestial lion and Regulus denotes the heart of the super-sized feline.
The constellation Bootes the Hunting Farmer dominates the eastern half of the sky and is leading in the summer constellations. Bootes actually looks more like a big kite with the bright star Arcturus at the tail of the kite. In the lower southeastern sky, not far from Arcturus and Bootes, is the large but faint constellation Virgo the Virgin. Spica is Virgo's brightest star and honestly, it's the only star in Virgo that jumps out at you.
If you face north and look nearly overhead this month the Big Dipper will appear to be dumping out on top of you. The Big Dipper is always upside down in the evening this time of year and according to old American folklore, that's why we have so much rain in the spring, mostly on the weekends, of course. Technically the Big Dipper is only the rear end and tail of the constellation Ursa Major, the Big Bear, but it is the brightest part of the great beast.