2017, April: Saturn

Saturn appears in the southern predawn skies during April.  At mid-month, it rises in the southeast after midnight.  As the sky begins to brighten, it appears in the south near the bright star Antares and the constellation Sagittarius.  The stars of of the centaur resemble a teapot.

On the morning of April 16, the moon appears about 5 degrees to the upper right of Saturn.  Reddish Antares is nearly 20 degrees to the lower right of Saturn.

Saturn is at opposition on June 15, rising at sunset and appearing in the sky all night.

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2017, April: Sun & Moon

Sun

With the sun rising north of east and setting north of west, April brings rapid change to the weather and growth of spring plants at mid-northern latitudes.  During the month, the sun rising and setting points appear to move about 15 degrees northward while the length of daylight grows nearly 75 minutes!  Welcome to the first full month of spring!

Moon

 

NASA Photo

Phase Date/Time Moonrise Moonset
First Quarter 04/03/17 (1:39 p.m.) 11:47 p.m. 2:39 a.m. (04/04)
Full Moon 04/11/17 (1:08 a.m.) 7:01 p.m. (04/10) 6:47 a.m.
Last Quarter 04/19/17 (3:57 a.m.) 2:06 a.m. 12:14 p.m.
New Moon 04/26/17 (7:16 a.m.) 6:20 a.m. 8:05 p.m.
Times are Central Daylight Time for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations.
(For mjb & afb)

For more information about the planets see:

2017, March 28: Mercury and Mars

After several days of rainy and cloudy weather in the Chicago area, clear skies prevail this evening as Mercury begins its best evening display of the year.  At about 45 minutes after sunset Mercury stands less than 10 degrees above the horizon, so a clear viewing spot is needed.  Mars is nearly 17 degrees to the upper left of Mercury.

Tomorrow evening (March 29), the crescent moon joins the planetary pair.  If you can’t find Mercury, the moon is a guide with binoculars:  Mercury is about 9 degrees to the lower right of the moon.  In typical 7 x 50 binoculars, Mercury stands just outside the field of view if the moon is placed at the 10 o’clock part of the field.  Slowly move the binocular toward the 4 o’clock direction.  Mercury will appear in view.

Link to YouTube video.

For more information about Mercury’s evening appearances this year, see this article:

For more information about current sky events, see these articles:

2017, April: Venus Zooms Into Morning Sky

During April, Venus rapidly climbs into the morning sky, At the beginning of the month, it is already rising about an hour ahead of the sun.  By month’s end it rises nearly 100 minutes before the sun.

DSC03901

Update: Venus on April 2, 2017.

As Venus climbs higher in the sky, it grows in brightness — nearly 60% during the month.

On April 15, Venus enters a nearly 30-day period when it is at its brightest, with May 1 as the midpoint.  Venus at its brightest when it is near our planet, so that it appears large through a telescope and it is at a phase (yes, Venus shows phases like the moon) so that its highly reflective clouds appear to make it gleam brightest in the skies of Earth.

On the morning of April 23, the waning crescent moon appears about 8 degrees to the lower left of Venus.

During April Venus appears at its brightest for this appearance.

For more about the appearance of Venus and other planets see the following articles:

2017, April 7: Jupiter at Opposition

Jupiter reaches opposition on April 7, 2017. The giant planet rises in the east at sunset. The chart above shows the planet with Spica and the constellation Corvus in the southeast about 100 minutes after sunset (the end of twilight).  Jupiter is 7 degrees from Spica.

At opposition our planet passes between the outer planet and the sun.  Jupiter and the sun are on opposite sides of Earth.  When the sun sets in the west, Jupiter rises in the east.  As our planet rotates, Jupiter appears higher in the east.  At midnight it is south, opposite the time when the sun is south:  noon.  Jupiter begins to descend in the western sky, setting in the west as the sun rises in the eastern sky.

At this opposition Jupiter is nearly 415 million miles away from us.  This planet has highly reflective clouds and appears as the fourth brightest object in the sky, after the sun, moon, and Venus.

On the evening of April 10, the nearly full moon appears 3 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter.

For more about the planets’ appearances, see other articles in this list:

2017, Late March: Jupiter in Evening

Bright Jupiter appears in the evening sky during early Spring.  It rises in the eastern sky about an hour after sunset during late March.  This giant planet reaches opposition, rising in the eastern sky at sunset, on April 7.  It appears in the sky all night, setting in the west as the sun rises in the east.

Jupiter appears near Spica, a bluish star about 5 degrees to its lower right.  Jupiter is appearing near Spica throughout the year until it disappears into sun’s brightness in October.

As Jupiter rises, the bright golden-orange star Arcturus appears farther to the left (north) in the eastern sky.  The pair is separated by about 30 degrees.

Jupiter is brightest among the three celestial sights.  It is 10 times brighter than Arcturus and nearly 25 times brighter than Spica.

For more information about current sky events, see these articles:

2017: Mercury’s Spring Evening Appearance

Mercury’s best evening appearance at mid-northern latitudes occurs during spring evenings.  This year, Mercury appears farthest from the sun on April 1.  A few days earlier (March 29), the moon helps in locating this speedy and elusive planet.  Look to the west at 8 p.m. CDT as observed from the Chicago area.  For other time zones, look about 45 minutes after sunset.  The crescent moon stands nearly 13 degrees above the western horizon.  Mercury is about 9 degrees to the lower right of the moon.  In typical 7 x 50 binoculars, Mercury stands just outside the field of view if the moon is placed at the 10 o’clock part of the field.  Slowly move the binocular toward the 4 o’clock direction.  Mercury will appear in view.

Mars is fading in brightness quickly and appears 11 degrees above the moon.

Link to YouTube video.

For more information about Mercury’s evening appearances this year, see this article:

For more information about current sky events, see these articles: