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.  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:

2017: Locating Planets During Twilight

Showing a friend the location of the planet in a clear blue sky is a challenge.  If the moon is nearby, as in the image above, then locating the planet is easier.

If the sky is clear without clouds or the moon, then it’s more challenging.  In the image above we found Venus in the sky.  Some persons in the party could not find the planet.  We moved to a place where Venus was just above a nearby tree.  We said, “Look for Venus immediately above the tree.”  It was much easier to see in the sky than it appears in the image above.  Happy planet searching.

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

2017, Late March: Venus as a Morning and an Evening Star

This is likely visible only with optical assistance, such as through binoculars or a small telescope.  WARNING!  NEVER POINT BINOCULARS OR TELESCOPE DIRECTLY AT THE SUN!   Such activity can cause permanent damage to your vision and/or the optical device.

As Venus rapidly disappears into the sun’s brightness during the next few weeks of March, it is visible in the morning sky and evening sky with optical assistance.  (Not to be redundant, but heed the warning above.)

Venus reaches inferior conjunction on March 25, 2017.  At this time Venus moves between the Earth and the sun.  Because the orbits  of the planets line nearly in a plane, but not a perfect one, Venus does not move directly across the face of the sun.  It either passes above or below the sun.

At this conjunction, Venus is about 8 degrees above or north of the sun.  When an object is north of the sun, it can appear in both the morning and evening sky.  The Big Dipper is far north of the sun.  In March, during the early evening from mid-northern latitudes, the Big Dipper appears to stand on its handle high in the northeast.  In the predawn hours, it appears to be dipping down from the northwestern sky.  The Big Dipper is an extreme case of the concept.  But is shows that anything north of the sun can be both seen in the morning sky and in the evening sky,

The chart above (click the image to see it larger), shows Venus’ invisible orbit at noon on inferior conjunction day.  With appropriate shading, the planet is visible with optical assistance.  It is north of the sun.

Starting at mid-March and until inferior conjunction, Venus rises just ahead of the sun in the morning and sets just after it in the evening, during bright twilight, and so the need for optical assistance.  The optimum date is March 22 when Venus rises about 30 minutes before the sun and sets 30 minutes after.

At 6:45 a.m. CDT in the Chicago are (check your local sunrise time for other locations), about 10 minutes before sunrise, Venus stands 4 degrees above the the horizon and about 11 degrees from the sunrise point.  A crescent moon is in the southeast, over 70 degrees from Venus and not much help with its identification.

That evening, about 15 minutes after sunset (7:10 p.m. CDT in the Chicago area), Venus is 4 degrees above the horizon and 8 degrees from the sunset point.  Dimmer Mercury is about 13 degrees to the upper left of Venus.

While not easily seen, it is possible to see Venus as both a morning and evening star.

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

2017, February 12: The Winter Sky

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The Winter Stars gleam brightly from the southern sky this evening.  Orion, with its bright stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel, slowly march westward.  Within the constellation is the Orion Nebula that appears as a fuzzy cloud through a small telescope or binoculars.  Aldebaran appears in front of the Hyades star cluster, that appears in a check mark shape or a letter “V” if you include the bright star.  The Pleiades star cluster is to the upper right of the Aldebaran.  You can count six or seven stars.  Through binoculars you may see a few dozen.

The clear winter sky tonight provides for excellent sky watching.