This week the sky offers some absolutely “gonna-be-there” viewing, plus a tantalizing possibility for a once every few decades special event. Both of these, of course, depend on there being clear skies at your viewing location.
First, the sure thing. Three naked-eye planets are visible in the early evening sky just after sunset, and will be for another couple of weeks. Two of them will be visible all summer long. Below is the sky at 9 pm EDT on May 21, 2014, looking southwest.
The sun has set, but the sky is not yet completely dark. No matter; these planets will be the brightest things in the sky. Farthest to the west (closest to the already set sun) is Jupiter, by far the brightest thing around. A little east of directly south is Mars, distinguished by its orangey color. And farther east is Saturn, with a yellowish cast. You certainly don’t need a telescope to see them, but even a modest scope will reveal Jupiter’s largest moons, the disc shape of Mars, and Saturn’s glorious rings.
The iffy event holds out the prospect of a spectacular sight that most people have never seen, and the timing couldn’t be better for a pre-dawn adventure: 3 am EDT on Saturday morning, May 24. In short, what we see could range from nothing at the most disappointing end of the scale to a meteor shower with one or two meteors per minute, to a seldom-seen meteor storm with one every three or four seconds. More details can be found in this post from Sky & Telescope. The Lynchburg forecast is for clear skies, and I plan to be up and viewing!