Venus is a spectacular evening planet throughout May, despite its brilliance being constantly challenged by the bright, expanding spring evening twilight.


On 1 May, shining at mag. –4.0, Venus sets 4 hours and 15 minutes after the Sun, giving you approximately 2 hours to view it against a dark sky as it approaches the northwest horizon.

On 9 May, now shining one-tenth of a magnitude brighter at –4.1, Venus sits 1.8° to the north of the mag. +5.1 open star cluster M35 in Gemini.

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Venus and Jupiter James Robertson, Croydon, 2 March 2023 Equipment: Canon 750D, Zuiko Olympus 75-150mm zoom lens, photo tripod
Venus has been a wonderful sight in 2023 so far. James Robertson captured this view of Venus and Jupiter from Croydon, UK on 2 March 2023.

You’ll need a flat northwest horizon to see this encounter at its best though, as the pair are low when true darkness falls, about 8.5° as seen from the centre of the UK.

On 16 May, Venus sits three-quarters of a degree from Mebsuta (Epsilon (ε) Geminorum).

All the while, the period when you are able to see Venus against a dark sky will be shrinking, the planet’s altitude decreasing significantly when true darkness falls throughout the month.

Mid-month, Venus remains above the horizon for 4 hours after sunset and through a telescope appears 60%-lit. Its disc will appear nearly 20 arcseconds across on this date.

Venus encounters open cluster M35 on 9 May at around 22:00 BST (21:00 UT). Credit: Pete Lawrence
Venus encounters open cluster M35 on 9 May at around 22:00 BST (21:00 UT). Credit: Pete Lawrence

Venus’s monthly visit from the Moon is a two-evening affair during May.

The mag. –4.1 planet has a visit from a 10%-lit waxing crescent Moon 6.8° to the right and slightly below it on the evening of 22 May, and a 17%-lit waxing crescent 4.8° east (above and left) of it on the evening of 23 May.

On 31 May, the bright evening twilight starts to win against Venus and it will no longer be possible to see the planet against truly dark skies from the UK.

On 31 May, Venus sets 3 hours 30 minutes after the Sun.

How to see the planets in May 2023

The phase and relative sizes of the planets in May 2023. Each planet is shown with south at the top, to show its orientation through a telescope
The phase and relative sizes of the planets in May 2023. Each planet is shown with south at the top, to show its orientation through a telescope


  • Best time to see: 1 May, from 1 hour after sunset
  • Altitude: 24°
  • Location: Taurus
  • Direction: West-northwest
  • Features: Phase, subtle surface markings
  • Recommended equipment: 75mm or larger


Mercury is at inferior conjunction on 1 May. Subsequently moving into the morning sky, it’s not well-placed, rising shortly before sunrise most of the month.

By the end of May, Mercury shines at mag. +0.5, only rising 40 minutes before the Sun.


  • Best time to see: 1 May, from 23:00 BST (22:00 UT)
  • Altitude: 26°
  • Location: Gemini
  • Direction: West

Mars is a mag. +1.3 evening planet in Gemini on 1 May and through the month it loses altitude as darkness falls. On the evening of 23 May, mag. +1.5 Mars lies 14.5° west of mag. –4.1 Venus. A beautiful 17%-lit waxing crescent Moon sits between both planets.

On the following evening, the 25%-lit waxing crescent Moon sits 3.2° above Mars. Both will be near the Beehive Cluster, M44, at this time, but late twilight and low altitude will make M44 hard to see.

On 31 May, mag. +1.6 Mars knocks on the western side of M44, the cluster stars being really hard to see due to low altitude and bright twilight. Mars appears 4 arcseconds across at the end of May.


  • Best time to see: 17 May, from 14:20 BST (13:20 UT)
  • Altitude: 35°
  • Location: Pisces
  • Direction: Southwest (daylight)

Jupiter was in conjunction with the Sun last month and isn’t well-placed. Your best chance of spotting it will be in the early morning dawn twilight, low above the east-northeast horizon at the end of the month.

On the morning of 17 May, a slender 7%-lit waning crescent Moon sits 5° southwest of mag. –1.9 Jupiter as they both rise above the east-northeast horizon 50 minutes before sunrise. Stay with the Moon after sunrise using a telescope and it may also be possible to maintain a ghostly view of Jupiter.

The Moon continues to close in on the planet, occulting it as seen from northern UK, or passing just to the north of it as seen from southern UK.


  • Best time to see: 31 May, from 03:00 BST (02:00 UT)
  • Altitude: 6° (low)
  • Location: Aquarius
  • Direction: East-southeast

Low in the east-southeast, Saturn is visible in the dawn twilight. It is currently a morning object, not well-placed. The best time to see it is at the end of the month when, under brightening twilight, it reaches around 12° above the southeast horizon.

When solar conjunctions occur before or around the June solstice, as is currently the case, the re-emergence of the main planets from the Sun’s glare tends to be poor. More encouragingly, the 2023 oppositions of Jupiter and Saturn are looking promising, with relatively good altitude.


Uranus is in conjunction with the Sun on 9 May and not currently visible.


Neptune is a morning object lost in the dawn twilight.


This guide originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.


Pete Lawrence, astronomer and BBC The Sky at Night presenter.
Pete LawrenceAstronomer and presenter

Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and astrophotographer, and a presenter on BBC's The Sky at Night.