Apr 1

Sky Report April 3 – 9, 2023

Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report

John Mosley

April 3 – 9

The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a non­profit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at www.stellarvistaobservatory.org. Send questions and comments to John@StargazingAdventures.org.

I hope you found minor planet Ceres last week and added a notch to your binoculars. If you didn’t – and poor weather has been a problem – Ceres is still there and it hasn’t faded. If you need to refer back to last week’s Sky Report for observing hints, know that they’re archived at https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/category/sky-reports/ for all of posterity. And forward that link to a friend who might enjoy reading them.

Venus is by far the brightest planet tonight and it dominates the western sky for almost three hours after sunset. Venus is so brilliant because it’s relatively nearby at just over 100 million miles away but especially because its clouds make it highly reflective. Venus reflects about 70% of the sunlight that hits it compared to about 10% for our cloudless moon (which is actually a very dark rock) and 30% for the partly cloudy earth. Imagine how bright our full moon would be if it reflected as much light as Venus! Note that Venus is approaching the Pleiades Star Cluster (aka The Seven Sisters) in Taurus and will pass near it next week.

Mars is out too, but unlike Venus it blends in with the brighter stars near it and you need to know your constellations to pick it out. Mars is in the feet of Gemini, the Twins, and during the next 5 weeks it moves northward diagonally up the twins to position itself in line with Castor and Pollux in the middle of May. (Venus then will also be in Gemini; watch it traverse Taurus during April.) Mars is in the middle of a ring of similarly bright stars that include Castor and Pollux, Procyon, Betelgeuse, and Capella.

Little Mercury is currently at its best evening appearance of the year. Through the 11th it will be a little higher at sunset each evening, reaching its greatest angular separation from the sun on that day, and then in only a few days it’ll leave the evening sky. So up to and around the 11th is best chance of 2023 to see elusive Mercury in the evening, and I include it this week so you can be looking for it.

To see it you’ll need a low western horizon, a clear sky (of course), and perseverance. Binoculars will help. Look beginning 40 minutes after sunset, when Mercury will have an altitude of about 10°. Binoculars will help you find it but if the air is clear you’ll have no trouble seeing it with your eyes alone – and pointing it out to your neighbors – to their wonder and astonishment. Mercury is in Aries where there are no bright stars nearby to confuse it with.

This year Easter falls on April 9th. Like Passover, which Easter is based on, the date moves from year to year because it’s based on the cycles of the moon, rather than (like Christmas) the motion of the sun. The best source of historical background information for such things is often The Old Farmer’s Almanac, now online (https://www.almanac.com/content/when-is-easter).

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.

About the Author:

John Mosley was Program Supervisor of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes”. He and his wife live in St. George where he continues to stargaze from his retirement home while serving on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.

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