Apr 29

Sky Report: May 1 – 7, 2023

Sunspots on a recent day. This coming winter there will usually be even more. You can see a current view of the sun at
https://spaceweather.com. Credit SDO/HMI.

Venus and Mars are the two planets in the evening sky and both are easy to spot. Venus is the brightest object in the night sky, other than the moon of course, and it sits 1/3 of the way up the western sky as twilight ends. Venus is so bright because it’s shrouded in highly reflective clouds, and in fact the astronomical symbol for Venus — ♀ — is a mirror. These clouds are made largely of droplets of sulfuric acid while the atmosphere is largely carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and it does the same thing on Venus as on the earth – it warms the planet. The temperature at the surface of Venus averages 850° F. Why Venus has so much carbon dioxide in its atmosphere is an interesting story but there’s not room to tell it here (check Wikipedia and NASA websites).

Venus is in Taurus (between the Bull’s horns on the 1st) through the 7th when it moves into Gemini. It’s moving eastward toward slower-moving Mars which is some 25° from it, but Venus won’t catch Mars and there will be no conjunction.

Mars is in Gemini, the Twins, and it’s comparable in brightness to the stars Castor and Pollux, the brightest stars in Gemini and which form the twin’s heads. Mars is moving eastward and if you watch nightly you can estimate when it will be in line with them, passing them on the left. Note the color differences between Mars, Castor, and Pollux.

Saturn is in the morning sky and you’ll find it low in the southeast as morning twilight begins. Venus and Mars are surrounded by many bright stars since they are in front of the Milky Way, but Saturn is in Aquarius, a part of the sky with no bright stars.

Jupiter is theoretically in the morning sky too, but it’s so low that in practice you won’t see it until late this month when its angular distance from the sun increases.

The moon is full on the 5th, when it lies opposite the sun in Leo. Before then it rises before midnight and after then it rises after midnight but in any case it brightens the night sky all week.

Why not observe the brightest star? Sunspots are visible every clear day. We’re approaching the maximum of the 11-year solar cycle when sunspots and other solar activity reaches a peak. The maximum is now predicted for late 2023 or early 2024 with a peak that could be twice as strong as the previous cycle. You can easily see sunspots with binoculars or any telescope if, and ONLY IF, you have a proper filter. You can find one that is very inexpensive at Amazon (“Thousand Oaks 6×6 solar filter”). WARNING: ALWAYS MAKE SURE A SOLAR FILTER IS WELL ATTACHED TO THE TELESCOPE/BINOCULARS, USING STICKY TAPE, TO KEEP IT FROM FALLING OFF WHILE OBSERVING.

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on the morning of the 6th but bright moonlight will ruin it.

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.

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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