Categories: Sky Reports
There aren’t as many planets in the evening sky as we’re used to seeing all winter. Presently only two are visible, plus there’s one in the morning sky. Here’s where they are.
Venus is as brilliant as it is beautiful, especially when seen against colorful clouds or interesting features in the landscape. Then you have good photo ops, even with a handheld smart phone. Venus is a third of the way up the western sky as darkness falls and it sets 3½ hours after the sun.
Venus is in Taurus, and you can easily see it move against the background stars night-by-night. It’s moving eastward at the rate of just over 1° per day. Telescopically it looks like a tiny featureless 2/3 illuminated moon.
How early each night can you spot Venus? You can see it during the daytime if you know where to look. Try this: Spot it early one night, and position yourself so it’s next to a marker of some sort – the corner of the roof of a house or branch of a tree, for example. Then stand in that same spot the next night but 15 minutes earlier; look near where you saw Venus the night before, and look a little to the east. Repeat, and repeat again until you can see it before sunset. Binoculars will help you spot it, but once you have it in view with binoculars you should be able to see it with your eyes alone. Then try it without your marker.
The one other evening planet is Mars, which is only 1/140th as bright as Venus. That’s still as bright as the brighter stars, but it’s surrounded by the similarly bright stars of Gemini, the Twins. It’s moving eastward at ½° per day. On the 25th the crescent moon, 6 days past new, passes 3° from Mars and the two will fit comfortably in the field-of-view of any binoculars. The two bright stars above Mars are the heads of Gemini: Castor on the right and Pollux on the left.
Saturn has been behind the sun, but now it’s reappeared in the morning sky and you can see it low in the east-southeast as the sky begins to brighten. It’s no more than 15° high in early morning twilight. It helps that it’s in Aquarius, a constellation with no bright stars; it’s the only halfway bright object in that part of the sky.
These are the last weeks to see the winter constellations – Orion, Taurus, Gemini, Canis Major, and the others. They set 4 minutes earlier each day. Notice how devoid of bright stars the eastern sky is, in comparison. When we look toward the winter constellations we’re looking into the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy; when we look to the east we’re looking out of it. The difference is striking. The one bright orange star in the east is Arcturus in the constellation Bootes, the Herdsman.
April 29 is International Astronomy Day. Google it for information.
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