Categories: Sky Reports
I wrote that we’ll lose Jupiter before March ends, and for practical purposes that is true, but Jupiter is in a close conjunction with Mercury on the 27th and that may prompt people who enjoy a challenge to break out the binoculars and try to see it. Jupiter has been sinking in the west, setting 4 minutes earlier each night, and on the 27th it sets only 50 minutes after the sun. But Mercury is moving around from behind the sun – just as Venus has all this year — and on the 27th Mercury passes Jupiter (Jupiter going down and Mercury going up) at a distance of 1¼°. Jupiter is to the left and Mercury is almost as bright. You’ll need binoculars or a telescope and a flat western horizon and to look a half-hour after sunset. Good luck!
Mercury continues to set later each night and next week will be a fine time to look for it with your eye alone.
Far easier to see is the Evening Star, Venus, which through July is at its prettiest, when it shines through colorful twilight clouds and sets late against a dark sky. Instructions to find it are simple: face west during the two hours after sunset and look for the brightest “star”. Venus is in Aries, moving up toward the famous Pleiades Star Cluster; using your own nightly observations when do you predict Venus will pass the Pleiades?
Venus passes just over 1° from the planet Uranus on the 30th; Uranus is to the 8 o’clock position from Venus and it’s easily visible in binoculars once the sky is dark. This is an opportunity see Uranus if you haven’t before.
The other evening planet is Mars. As winter began Mars was so bright, and it was in a part of the sky without bright stars to compete with it, that it was obvious which it was. No longer. Mars is now more distant, and hence fainter, and it’s in front of the Milky Way, so now you have to know your constellations to pick it out. Mars is in the feet of Gemini where it’s surrounded by similarly bright stars.
Stargazers with binoculars – and which stargazer doesn’t have a pair! – will enjoy watching Mars approach and pass the star cluster M35. M35 is nowhere as bright as the Pleiades but it’s a popular and pretty object in its own right. Mars is just over 1° from M35 on the evening of the 28th but it’s near it all that week. The stars of M35 are about 3,000 light years away; in contrast, Mars is 12 light minutes away.
Mars is traversing Gemini, moving eastward diagonally through it, and as June begins it’ll take two days to pass in front of an even brighter naked-eye star cluster that you definitely won’t want to miss.
Meanwhile Saturn has returned to the morning sky and you might catch it in early twilight, but it’s not very high. Wait a few weeks.
Stellar Vista Observatory provides portable telescopes and tripod mounted binocular kits on loan for free to residents and visitors in Kane County. Enhance your enjoyment of the night sky! To learn more, request a loan, or attend one of SVO’s free public star parties for 2023, visit https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/ or drop in to the Kane County Office of Tourism.