SkyWatching April 2014

A total lunar eclipse is visible the night of April 14-15 across the western hemisphere. (NASA image)

Sun

There is a solar eclipse at new moon on April 29.  A ring eclipse is visible from parts of Antarctica and a partial eclipse in Australia and the southern Indian Ocean.

Throughout the month, the sun rises earlier each day as indicated in the table below.

Date Sunrise Sunset
April 1 6:34 a.m. 7:16 p.m.
April 15 6:10 a.m. 7:32 p.m.
April 30 5:48 a.m. 7:48 p.m.

Times are Central Daylight Time for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations.

daylight_1404

The chart above, constructed from US Naval Observatory data, shows the amount of daylight throughout the year with the month of April shaded in blue.  (Click the image to see it larger.)  The chart reflects the increasing amount of daylight shown in the table above.

Moon

Phase Date/Time Moonrise Moonset
First Quarter 04/07/14 (3:31 a.m.) 12:17 p.m. 2:40 a.m. (04/08)
Full Moon 04/15/14 (2:42 a.m.) 7:08 p.m. (04/14) 6:18 a.m. (04/15)
Last Quarter 04/22/14 (2:52 a.m.) 1:55 a.m. 12:34 p.m.
New Moon 04/29/14 (1:14 a.m.) 6:08 a.m. 8:27 p.m.

Times are Central Daylight Time for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations. (For mjb)

 

 

The events of the Lunar Eclipse of April 14-15, 2014. The best views are from 2:06 a.m. CDT to 3:24 a.m. (NASA Image)

The events of the Lunar Eclipse of April 14-15, 2014. The best views are from 2:06 a.m. CDT to 3:24 a.m. (NASA Image)

On the night of April 14-15, the moon moves into the Earth’s shadow.  Observers across the western hemisphere see a total lunar eclipse with the best part occurring from 2:06 a.m. through 3:24 a.m. on April 15.  No special equipment is necessary the eclipse.

Every planet and moon project a two-leveled, round shadow into space.  From the darker center of the shadow (umbra), the sun is completely blocked.  From the outer shadow (penumbra), the sun is partly blocked.   Because the moon shines from reflected sunlight, the moon loses its brightness when in passes into the umbra.  Sunlight from the earth’s atmosphere gets bent into the shadow causing the moon to gently glow in a coppery color as in the image at the top of this posting.

 

Here are the events of the eclipse:

April 14, 7:08 p.m. (CDT) — Moonrise
11:53 p.m. — The moon begins to move into the penumbra.  For most purposes, no change in the moon’s brightness is visible.
April 15
12:58 a.m. — The moon begins to move into the umbra and a partial eclipse begins.  During the next 68 minutes larger portions of the moon are darkened.
2:06 a.m. — The total lunar eclipse begins.
2:45 a.m. — The total eclipse is half-finished.  This is known as “greatest eclipse.”
3:24 a.m. — The total eclipse is finished.  A partial eclipse occurs in reverse with larger portions of the moon moving back into sunlight.
4:33 a.m. — The partial eclipse is finished and the moon is in the penumbra.  No change in the moon’s brightness is visible.
5:37 a.m. — The eclipse ends.
6:18 a.m. — Moonset

(All times are Central Daylight Time.  Make adjustments in the time zone for other regions.)

Morning Sky

Mercury hangs low in the eastern sky hidden in bright sunlight early in the morning.  On April 25, the speedy planet reaches the far side of the sun (superior conjunction) and moves into the evening sky next month.

Venus continues to dominate the morning sky.  Now after greatest elongation and its greatest separation from the sun, it rises about 1 hour, 45 minutes before the sun.  For more about Venus as a Morning Star, read our article.

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On the mornings of April 25 and April 26, the moon appears near Venus.  On April 25, the pair is 6 degrees apart; on the next morning they are 8 degrees apart.

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For experts:  On the morning of April 12, planet Neptune appears near Venus, less than one degree. While this is not naked eye, Neptune should appear as a bluish “star” to the lower right of Venus as seen through binoculars.  A modest size backyard telescope is needed to see the globe of Neptune.

Saturn rises before 10 p.m. throughout the month and it is well placed in the morning sky throughout the month.

lune_sat_1404

Two mornings after the lunar eclipse, the waning gibbous moon appears less than 2 degrees to the left of Saturn.

Evening Sky

Mars reaches opposition on April 8.  At this time, the planet rises in the eastern sky at sunset, appears in the southern sky at midnight, and sets in the western sky at sunrise.  Mars and the sun are on opposite parts of the sky.  Alternately, our planet is between Mars and the sun.  The planet is currently moving westward compared to the starry background.  For more about this evening appearance of Mars, read our article.

Jupiter appears high in the southern sky at sunset.  It is in front of the stars of Gemini.

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The moon appears near Jupiter on the evening of April 6.

The Visible Solar System

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The chart above shows the planets visible to the unaided eye on April 15, 2014, as seen from above.  (Click the image to see it larger.)  Jupiter is well placed in the evening sky.  Mars is entering the evening sky as it is just past opposition.  Saturn and Venus are in the morning sky as well as Mercury, but the speedy planet is moving toward superior conjunction.

March 2014 Sky Watching

Sun

Daylight increases by nearly 90 minutes during the month as the sun’s direct rays cross the equator moving north at 11:57 a.m. on March 20, 2014.  We advance our clock one hour on March 9 to start daylight time.  This will certainly bring back the discussion of year-round daylight saving time.  In 1974 and 1975 daylight saving time was started earlier in those years as a national response to an energy shortage.  Last year Allison Schrager suggested that the United States should adopt two time zones and eliminate daylight saving time.  Here is my commentary on the idea.

Moon Phases

Phase

Date/Time

Moonrise

Moonset

New Moon March 1 (2 a.m. CST) 6:19 a.m. 6:30 p.m.
First Quarter March 8 (7:27 a.m. CST) 10:50 a.m. 1:42 a.m. (03/09)
Full Moon March 16 (12:08 a.m. CDT) 7:16 p.m. CDT 7:14 a.m. CDT (3/17)
Last Quarter March 23 (7:46 p.m. CDT) 1:27 a.m. CDT 11:25 a.m. CDT
New Moon March 30 (12:45 p.m. CDT) 6:34 a.m. CDT 7:27 p.m. CDT

Times are Central Time (Standard or Daylight) for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations. (For mjb)

Evening Sky

Jupiter continues to dominate the evening sky.  It is well placed high in the southern skies at sunset.  Early in the month, look up high in the southern sky (as seen from northern latitudes); Jupiter’s current position is  near where the sun will appear at noon in late June.

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Jupiter appears high in the southern sky during the early evening hours of March 2014.

The chart above shows Jupiter against the starry background of Gemini with its bright star, Castor and Pollux, nearby.  Jupiter resumes its eastward motion compared to the starry background on March 6.

jup_140309-10.jpg

A few nights later, a bright waxing gibbous moon appears near Jupiter.  On March 9, the moon is 7 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter.  The next evening the pair is separated by 9.5 degrees.

Mars rises in the southeast at 9:30 a.m. early in the month.  It appears near the star Spica.  On March 1, Mars is 6 degrees to the lower left of Spica.  While not vivid, Mars is distinctly reddish and Spica is blue.  The colors can be amplified while  looking through binoculars or a spotting scope.  Mars is over twice as bright as the star and will continue to brighten throughout the month.  The planet begins to move westward or retrograde compared to the starry background.  Mars passes 5 degrees above Spica on March 24. The progress of Mars’ retrograde loop is chronicled in this posting.

lune_mars_140318

On the evening of March 18, the waning gibbous moon, just 2.5 days past full, makes nearly an equilateral triangle with Mars and Spica.  The moon is separated from the other two objects by about 4 degrees with Mars and Spica separated by 5 degrees.

Saturn rises in the southeast before midnight early in the month and at 10:30 p.m. by month’s end.  It is about 30 degrees to the lower left of Mars near Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali in Libra.

lune_sat_140320

As the moon rises on the night of March 20/21, it appears 2 degrees below Saturn.

Morning Sky

Venus continues to outshine all other starry objects.  Early in the month, it rises in the southeast at about 4 a.m.  We continue to update its visibility with images at this posting.

Mercury makes a brief appearance during the month and is difficult to see.

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Before dawn on March 14, Mercury appears 19 degrees to the lower left of Venus.

venus_2014_gewVenus reaches its greatest elongation (angular separation) from the sun on March 22 and rises about 2 hours before the sun.

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On March 27, the waning crescent moon appears 3 degrees to the upper left of Venus.

Visible Solar System

sol_sys_140315The image above shows the planets visible without a telescope (naked eye planets) on March 15.  (Click the image to see it larger.)  Jupiter is the lone planet in the evening sky.  Mars is near the midnight line, meaning that it is approaching its nearest point to Earth.  Meanwhile, Venus, Saturn, Mars, and Mercury are visible in the morning sky.

Jupiter and the Moon Tonight, February 10, 2014

DSC00668

That bright star next to the moon tonight is Jupiter. (Click the image to see it larger.) The waxing gibbous moon is about 5.5 degrees from the planet.  They appear each other throughout the night until they set in the west around 4:30 a.m. CST tomorrow (February 11).

Read  more about the planets this month.

Jupiter Tonight, February 3, 2014

DSC00630

Through high clouds bright Jupiter shines from high in the eastern sky this evening as seen from the Chicago area. (Click the images to see them larger.)  Jupiter is slowly retrograding (moving westward) in front of the stars of Gemini with its bright stars, Castor and Pollux.  Betelgeuse (Orion) and Procyon (Canis Minor) are visible in the image.

Notice Jupiter’s position in the starry background tonight to where it was in the image below about three months ago.

DSC00042East is to the bottom of the image; west is toward the top.  Notice the position of Jupiter compare to Castor and Pollux.  Jupiter has moved westward or backward.  This will continue for most of this month.

Read  more about the planets this month.

Skywatching February 2014

Sun

Date

Sunrise

Sunset

February 1, 2014 7:03 a.m. 5:06 p.m.
February 14, 2014 6:48 a.m. 5:23 p.m.
February 28, 2014 6:27 a.m. 5:40 p.m.

Times are Central Standard Time for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations.

Daylight continues to increase during the month, with the Chicago area gaining about 1 hour, 10 minutes of daylight during the month.  The sun continues to rise south of east and set south of west.

Moon

Phase Date/Time Moonrise Moonset
New Moon March 1, 2014 (2:00 a.m.) 6:19 a.m. 6:30 p.m.
First Quarter February 6, 2014 (1:22 p.m.) 10:45 a.m. 1:13 a.m. (02/07)
Full Moon February 14, 2014 (5:53 p.m.) 5:27 p.m. 6:44 a.m. (02/15)
Last Quarter February 22, 2014 (11:15 a.m.) 12:33 a.m. 10:41 a.m.

Times are Central Standard Time for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations. (For mjb)

The length of the month (29.5 days) is longer than the number of days in February.  This year, February has no “official” New Moon, which occurs at 2 a.m. on March 1.  The times of the phases have been added to this monthly summary.  These phases can occur at any time and the moon is not necessarily above the horizon in Chicago when the phase occurs.

Evening Sky

Elusive Mercury appears in the western sky during evening twilight early in the month.

lune_merc_140201Just a few days after Mercury’s greatest angular separation from the sun, the waxing crescent moon appears 10 degrees above Mercury on February 1.  The planet rapidly moves back into sun’s glare, passing between our planet and the sun (inferior conjunction) on February,  popping into the morning sky by month’s end.

lune_jup_140210

Jupiter is “that bright star in the eastern sky” during early evening hours.  It rises in the east before sunset and Jupiter is well up in the eastern sky as the sky darkens.  By mid-month it is in the south at 9 p.m. and sets in the west as Venus rises in the east.  On February 10, the waxing gibbous moon makes a nice pairing with Jupiter.  The pair is separated by about 5.5 degrees.

jup_retro_1402

Jupiter continues to move westward compared to the starry background (retrograde) during the month.  Its change is evident from week to week.  Notice Jupiter’s separation from Delta Geminorum (the star delta in the constellation Gemini).  The constellation’s brightest stars, Castor and Pollux, are nearby.  The numbers indicate the days in February.

Morning Sky

Brilliant Venus outshines all other stars in the night sky.  It rises in the eastern sky over 2 hours before the sun throughout the month. At mid-month, the planet reaches its greatest brilliancy of this morning appearance, which is about 2 months after the planet passed between Earth and the sun (inferior conjunction).  For more about Venus as Morning star, see this summary.

lune_ven_140225-26

While Venus sparkles in the predawn eastern sky throughout the month, the moon pairs with the planet late in the month:

  • February 25, 5:30 a.m. — The waning crescent moon appears 10 degrees to the upper right of Venus
  • February 26, 5:30 a.m. — On the next morning, the moon is 4 degrees to the lower left of the planet.

After appearing in the evening sky earlier in the month, Mercury moves into the morning sky.

lune_merc_140227

On the morning of February 27, the crescent moon appears about 5 degrees to the upper right of Mercury.

lune_sat_mars_140219-22

A few days before its grouping with Venus, the moon passes Mars and Saturn:

  • February 19:  The waning gibbous moon is 3 degrees to the right of Spica and 7 degrees to the lower right of Mars.
  • February 20:  The moon appears, 10 degrees to the left of Spica; 6 degrees to the lower left of Mars; and 20 degrees to the right of Saturn.
  • February 21: The moon is 6 degrees to the right of Saturn.
  • February 22: The moon is 7 degrees to the lower left of Saturn.

Either early in the month or late in the month, all five planets visible to the unaided eye can be seen.

The Visible Solar System

solar_system_140214

The chart above shows the solar system as seen from north of the sun on February 14, 2014.  (Click the image to see it larger.)  On this date, Jupiter is the only planet visible in the evening sky.  Mercury is nearing its inferior conjunction, between Earth and Sun.  Saturn, Mars and Venus appear on the morning side of Earth.

Jupiter and the Moon Tonight, January 16, 2014

DSC00557

Shining through a thin cloud layer on this moonlit night, Jupiter shines in front of the stars of Gemini, with Castor and Pollux nearby. (Click the image to see it larger.)  Procyon (Canis Minor) also appears in the view.

Read more about the planets this month.

Jupiter, Moon, Orion, and Sirius Tonight, January 13, 2014

DSC00554

Jupiter is the only bright planet visible in the evening sky tonight with Venus moving into the morning sky.  Jupiter is in front of the stars of Gemini with Castor and Pollux, the twin stars nearby.  The waxing gibbous moon is overexposed in the image.

DSC00556

Orion, with its bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel, appears to the lower right of the moon which is just outside the upper left corner of this image.  (Click the images to see them larger.)  Even in the bright moonlight, the Orion Nebula, a star forming region, appears in the image.  The Dog Star Sirius appears lower in the sky, below Orion.

Read more about the planets this month.

Mars, Jupiter, Saturn This Morning, January 7, 2014

DSC00530

Three planets are visible this morning in the predawn hours. Bright Jupiter shines from the west-northwest from in front of the stars of Gemini. (Click the images to see them larger.)  Notice the difference in the position of Jupiter and Gemini this morning compared to last night.

DSC00529

Meanwhile in the southern skies, Mars  is to the upper right of Spica.  Mars is rapidly moving eastward and it will pass 5 degrees north of Spica on January 28.  Saturn passed between Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali  last year and appears beneath them.

Read more about the planets this month.

Jupiter Tonight, January 6, 2014

DSC00528

Just past opposition, bright Jupiter shines from the eastern sky as seen from the Chicago area this evening. (Click the image to see it larger.)  Jupiter is retrograding, moving west as compared to the starry background.  Watch during the next several weeks as it continues to appear to move farther from the Delta star in the constellation of Gemini.  Castor and Pollux, the twin stars, are nearby.

Read more about Jupiter’s retrograde motion and the other the planets this month.

Skywatching January 2014

Sun

Date Sunrise Sunset Daylight
January 1 7:18 a.m. 4:31 p.m. 9 hours, 13 minutes
January 15 7:16 a.m. 4:45 p.m. 9 hours, 29 minutes
January 31 7:04 a.m. 5:05 p.m. 10 hours, 1 minute

Times are Central Standard Time for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations.

Earth and Sun are closest (perihelion) on January 4.  The separation is about 91.4 million miles.

Moon Phases

Phase

Date

Moonrise

Moonset

New Moon

January 1

7:07 a.m.

5:17 p.m.

First Quarter

January 7

11:00 a.m.

12:20 a.m. (01/08)

Full Moon

January 15

4:43 p.m.

7:08 a.m. (01/16)

Last Quarter

January 24

12:35 a.m.

11:15 a.m.

New Moon

January 30

6:30 a.m.

5:16 p.m.

Times are Central Standard Time for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations. (For mjb)

Evening Sky

Venus

Venus rapidly exits the evening sky early in the month, passing between Earth and the sun (inferior conjunction) on January 11, reappearing in the morning sky late in the month.

venus_lune_130102

Just nine days before Venus reaches inferior conjunction it appears with a thin crescent moon in the southwestern sky.  The diagram above shows the pair at 5 p.m. CST as seen from the Chicago area.  For other locations look about 30 minutes after sunset.

Jupiter

After Venus leaves the evening sky, Jupiter is the brightest starlike object among a section of the sky full of bright stars.  Jupiter reaches opposition on January 5.  It rises at sunset, appears in the south at midnight and sets at sunrise.  It is on the opposite side of the sky from the sun.  This occurs when our planet passes between the sun and a planet that orbits the sun farther away from the sun than Earth.

As as the distant worlds revolve around the sun, they appear to move eastward compared to the starry background.  Yes, they rise in the east and set in the west each day as our planet rotates.  Their orbital motions carry them eastward.  When the outer planets are at opposition, they appear to stop their eastward movements and reverse their courses, moving westward (retrograde) for a period of time.  They then appear to stop retrograding, moving eastward again.  This apparent westward motion is an optical illusion from our planet passing these distant worlds.

jupiter_1401-31

During January, Jupiter retrogrades in front of the stars of Gemini, easily found by its two brightest stars Castor and Pollux.  The chart above shows Jupiter’s January retrograde motion.  The numbers indicate Jupiter’s positions on the January dates (1, 11, 21,31).  Delta Geminorum (The fourth brightest star in the constellation Gemini.  Star brightness in a constellation is designated with a Greek letter.  Delta is the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet.) serves as an excellent milepost for planetary movement.  During the month, notice the position of Jupiter compared to Delta.

jup_lune_140114

On the evening of January 14 , the nearly full moon appears near Jupiter.

Mercury

Elusive Mercury appears in the evening sky during the second half of the month.

lune_merc_140131

Just 26 hours past the new phase and with about 1% of the moon illuminated, the moon appears near Mercury on January 31.  The pair is about 5 degrees apart.  Find a clear horizon and begin looking about 30 minutes past sunset.  Binoculars should help you find the planet and the moon in bright twilight.

Morning Sky

The New Year begins with three planets in the morning sky:  Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars.

Jupiter

With Jupiter at opposition as described above, it is visible all night appearing near the western horizon before twilight begins.

jupiter_lune_140115

On the morning of January 15, the nearly full moon appears near Jupiter on the western horizon at 5 a.m.  This is a continuation of the evening view of Jupiter for January 14 described above.

Mars and Saturn

Mars and Saturn are in the morning sky throughout the month.  They can be found in the southeastern sky.  While they are not as bright as Jupiter and Venus, they are easy to spot.  Mars races toward and passes Spica during the month.  Saturn is nearly between Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali.

sat_mars_1401

The planets can be distinguished from the stars because they move compared to the distant starry background as they revolve around the sun.  They appear to move eastward compared to the sidereal tapestry.  The chart above shows the eastward motion of the planets during January 2014.  The green dots show the planetary positions on those January dates (1, 11, 21, 31).  The green lines indicate the overall motion.  Mars moves over 11 degrees eastward during the month while Saturn only moves about 2 degrees.  Mars’ orbital motion is over 15 times faster than Saturn’s.  On January 28, Mars passes about 5 degrees above Spica.

lune_mars_saturn_1401

The moon moves through the region in the morning sky beginning January 22.  Here are the events:

  • January 22:  Looking south at 5 a.m., the waning gibbous moon is 10 degrees to the right of Mars.
  • January 23:  The moon is less than one degree to the left of Spica.  (The image size of the moon is reduced on the diagram.  The size of the moon on our diagrams is normally oversized.)
  • January 24:  The moon is about midway between Mars and Saturn.  (Mars to Moon, 17 degrees; Saturn to Moon, 15 degrees.)
  • January 25.  The moon is about 2 degrees to the lower right of Saturn.

Venus

After its inferior conjunction on January 11, Venus rapidly moves into the morning in the eastern sky.  It is a “Morning Star” for most of 2014.

lune_venus_140128

Venus appears near a waning crescent moon on January 28.

Venus rapidly moves into the morning sky.  By the end of January, it rises two hours before sunrise.

For more about Venus as a morning star in 2014, read our detailed posting here.

Visible Solar System

planets_140115

This diagram shows the positions of the visible planets on January 15, 2014 as seen from north of the solar system.  Mercury and Jupiter are visible in the evening sky.  Notice that Jupiter is just past opposition by mid-month as it appears near the midnight line.  Both Venus and Mercury are in the same direction as the sun appearing in the sky, primarily during the daytime hours.  Saturn and Mars are in the morning sky.

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