See the moon and Saturn meet in the night sky early on May 31

A small central green circle captures a small point, Saturn, and the third quarter moon. A larger yellow/orange circle, expanding beyond the top and bottom, can also be seen.
When the waning crescent moon rises in the southeast around 2 a.m. local time on Friday morning, May 31, it will be accompanied by Saturn. (Image credit: Chris Vaughan/Starry Night)

If you have a telescope, you might want to consider setting your alarm on Friday (May 31) for around 4 a.m. local daylight time (3 a.m. if you live in Hawaii, Arizona or Puerto Rico which do not observe daylight time). At that hour, if you step outside and look toward the east-southeast, you'll see what are probably the two most popular celestial objects to look at through a telescope: the moon and the planet Saturn.

The moon will be just a little over half a day past it officially arriving at its last quarter, or half-moon phase. Some might question why we call the moon at this particular phase a "quarter moon," since it is plainly obvious that what we see in the sky is a half-illuminated moon. But the "quarter" refers not to what we see in the sky, but rather that the moon is beginning its final quarter in its 29.53 day cycle, known as a synodic month. 

The word synodic is derived from the ancient Greek word "sunodos," which by the mid 1600's became the English word "synod," which means "meeting"; because at new moon phase, the moon "meets" the sun. Thus, a synodic month begins at the new moon, and the moon is entering the last quarter of that month at its last quarter phase.

Related: What is the moon phase today? Lunar phases 2024

Saturn above the moon 


A Celestron telescope on a white background

(Image credit: Celestron)

Want to see the planets of the solar system up close? We recommend the Celestron Astro Fi 102 as the top pick in our best beginner's telescope guide

And hovering about 1.2 degrees above the moon on Friday morning is the "Lord of the Rings," the planet Saturn. To the eye it appears as a bright yellow-white "star," currently shining at magnitude +1.2, about as bright as the star Fomalhaut, which on this morning, will be located about 23 degrees to the lower right of the moon and Saturn. 

Your clenched fist held at arm's length measures roughly 10 degrees in width. So, Fomalhaut will be situated a little more than "two fists" from this moon/planet pairing and similarly hued (yellow-white) as well. The visual difference between Saturn and Fomalhaut is that Procyon appears to twinkle whereas Saturn shines with a steady, sedate glow.

Over the years, people have told me that they own a telescope but have never viewed Saturn through it. The reason? Most beginners in astronomy have trouble making a positive identification of it. Indeed, to the eye there is nothing really outstanding about Saturn. Venus and Jupiter can be identified by their great brilliance and Mars appears a distinctive fiery orange color. Saturn is indeed bright, but does not seem to overly "stand out" against the star background. What you really would like to have is some sort of benchmark to know positively where it is.

That benchmark on Friday morning will be the moon.

Saturn as it will appear in the May 2024 night sky. (Image credit: Chris Vaughn/Starry Night Software)

A bonus for South America 

Incidentally, if you're reading this from the southern-third of South America, anywhere below a line running roughly from Santiago, Chile to Florianopolis, Brazil, you'll be able to see the moon pass directly in front of Saturn — an occultation — with Saturn disappearing behind the bright side of the moon and reappearing about 20 to 30 minutes later behind the dark, unilluminated side. A fascinating sight!  

Nearly edgewise rings 

A telescope trained on Saturn will always reveal it to be a magnificent sight, although at the present time its famous rings appear almost edge-on toward our Earth. They are currently inclined only 2.2 degrees from edgewise and they will appear to close ever-so-slightly more during June. Then, as we move into the summer and fall, as both our planet and Saturn move in their respective orbits around the sun, the angular perspective of the rings will change and they will appear to noticeably "open" a bit, so by the start of December they will be tilted more than 5 degrees in our direction. 

If you have a 4-inch telescope, your best view will be using 100-power. With an 8-inch telescope, 200-power will provide you with an absolutely spectacular view, while through a 12-inch telescope at 300-power, it is a jaw dropping sight. Even veterans like myself, who have seen Saturn countless times over the years, never get tired of viewing it.

Moon also puts on a show 

And don't forget to also check out the moon! Most might say that the best time to look at our nearest neighbor is when it's at full phase, but that's probably the worst time to look at it! When the moon is full it tends to be overly bright as well as flat and one-dimensional in appearance. In contrast, around the several-day interval when the moon is around the first or last quarter phase is when we get the best views of the lunar landscape right along the sunrise-sunset line or terminator. 

If you do get outside with your telescope in the predawn hours of Friday morning, I'll bet you'll be so fascinated by what you see that you'll stay outside almost until sunrise. And incidentally, we're now just about a week away from the time of the earliest sunrise from the Northern Hemisphere. 

What a great way to kick off a Friday! 

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Joe Rao
Skywatching Columnist

Joe Rao is's skywatching columnist, as well as a veteran meteorologist and eclipse chaser who also serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications. Joe is an 8-time Emmy-nominated meteorologist who served the Putnam Valley region of New York for over 21 years. You can find him on Twitter and YouTube tracking lunar and solar eclipses, meteor showers and more. To find out Joe's latest project, visit him on Twitter.

  • rod
    I did enjoy views of Saturn and the Moon this morning. Observed 0345-0500 EDT. Sunrise near 0543 EDT/0943 UT. Last Quarter Moon 30-May-2024 1713 UT. I used my 90-mm refractor telescope with TeleVue 40-mm plossl, Orion Sirius plossl, TeleVue 9-mm Nagler eyepieces for 25-111x views. Saturn ring system is becoming much more edge on view now as we approach 2025. Titan moon visible. Craters along the Moon visible like Anaxagoras using Virtual Moon Atlas. Earthshine on the waning crescent Moon visible too. About 0446 EDT, a bright satellite made a pass moving SE and Mars was visible rising in the early morning sky. Saturn and the Moon separated by about 1-degree so both fit into the telescope and 10x50 binocular view. At 25x, Saturn, Titan, and much of the Moon visible but it was very bright in the eyepiece without a filter. Lovely sky with temperature 10C, sunrise brightening the eastern horizon near 0445 EDT. Great early morning viewing today.