Venus and Jupiter, March 17, 2015

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Brilliant Venus shines in the western sky this evening.  It shines all other visible celestial objects this evening.  During late March is sets nearly three hours after sunset, appearing as a sparkling celestial gem in the western sky.   On Sunday, March 22, the moon appears about 3.5 degrees to the left  of Venus.  Look for the pair as the sky darkens.

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Meanwhile, bright Jupiter shines high in the southeastern sky this evening near the star Regulus.  Tonight Jupiter is nearly 17 degrees to the upper right of Regulus.

Jupiter & Moon, March 1-3, 2015

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What’s that bright star near the moon tonight?  It’s Jupiter!  Jupiter is brightest “star” in the eastern sky during March, following Venus‘ brilliance in the western evening sky.

Separations are difficult to detect to the unaided eye.  In astronomy, we describe the distance between celestial objects in angular degrees, as measured by a protractor with your eye at the corner or vertex of the angle.  The full moon is about 1/2 degree across.  Our charts exaggerate the size of the moon so it cannot be used as a measuring scale on these images.

March 1:  The moon is 15 degrees (30 full moon diameters) to the upper right of Jupiter which is 15 degrees above the star Regulus

March 2:  The moon is about 6 degrees to the right of Jupiter

March 3:  The moon is 12 degrees below Jupiter and 6 degrees to the upper right of Regulus.

Venus, Mars & Jupiter, February 27, 2015

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Brilliant Venus shines from the western sky this evening with Mars nearby. Venus is now well past Mars. The planets are now nearly 3 degrees apart and separating by about 1 degree each day.

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At the same time, Jupiter shines from the eastern sky.  It appears about 15 degrees to the upper right of the star Regulus.

More posts about the planets:

Mars and Venus, February 2015

Venus as an Evening Star

Jupiter at opposition

Venus, Mars & Jupiter, February 17, 2015

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Brilliant Venus and Mars shine from the western sky this evening.  Venus is moving higher in the sky, as Mars is slowly moving toward the sun’s brilliance.  They are closest this weekend.  Tonight they are less than 2 degrees apart.

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Meanwhile, bright Jupiter shines from the eastern sky at the same time as the planetary pair move together in the west.  It is 14 degrees above the star Regulus.  Just past opposition, Jupiter is in the sky throughout the night, in the east during early the early evening, south around midnight, and west in the predawn hours.

More posts about the planets:

Mars and Venus, February 2015

Venus as an Evening Star

Jupiter at opposition

Venus and Mars, February 2015

As Jupiter gleams in the eastern evening sky as it has just passed opposition, brilliant Venus and Mars pass in the western evening sky during late February. The Venus-Mars pair is closest on February 21.

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During the next few evenings, as the sky darkens, look westward.  Venus is the brilliant “star” in the western sky.  It outshines all planets and stars in the sky.  Its intensity can be easily mistaken for distant airplane lights.  Dimmer Mars is to the upper left of Venus.  On the chart above on February 15, the pair is separated by about 3 degrees, that’s about 6 full moon diameters.

In astronomy we describe the separate between celestial object in the angular measurement of degrees, like those on a protractor.  The diameter of the full moon is nearly 0.5 degree.  Hold up your hand and extend your arm.  At arm’s length the finger nail on your pinky finger covers about the area of the full moon.

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A few nights later (February 18), Venus appears higher in the sky and closer to Venus.  On this evening, the pair is separated by about 1.5 degrees (3 full moon diameters).

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On February 20, a thin crescent moon joins the pair making a spectacular celestial sight.  In this evening, Mars is about 0.75 degrees above Venus with the Moon 1.5 degrees to the right of Venus.  (The moon is exaggerated in size in these images.)

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On the next evening, the pair is separated by less than one full moon diameter with the moon 13 degrees to the upper left of the planetary pair.  The two planets look near each other from the view of our home planet. although they are about 75 million miles apart, over 300 times the earth-moon distance.

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A few nights later (February 25), Venus is nearly 2 degrees to the upper left of Mars.

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By month’s end, Venus continues to climb higher in the sky, about 3 degrees to the upper left of Mars on February 28.  Mars slowly disappears into the sun’s glare as it heads toward conjunction with the sun in mid-June.  Venus continues to climb higher into the sky during the spring.  Later in the summer, Venus leaves the evening sky and reappears in the eastern morning sky.  The pair appears each other in early September, although they are separated by about 9 degrees.

Jupiter at Opposition , 2015

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Jupiter reaches opposition on February 8, 2015.  This occurs when our faster moving planet Earth moves between Jupiter and the sun, making the sun and Jupiter appear on opposite sides of the sky.  At this year’s opposition, Jupiter is 400 million miles from the us.  While it is much larger than Venus, Jupiter’s greater distance makes it dimmer than Venus, currently shining in the southwest during early evening twilight hours.  Venus appears nearly 3.5 times brighter than Jupiter, and outshining all other starlike objects. The chart above shows Earth between Jupiter and the sun.

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Early in the evening look for Jupiter in the eastern sky.  The dimmer stars to the left of the planet make the constellation Leo.  The “Sickle of Leo,” a nickname for some of the stars in the constellation, resemble a farmer’s tool.

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By midnight, Jupiter and the accompanying stars appear high in the southern sky.  Bluish Regulus is part of the view.

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By early morning, Jupiter and its stellar entourage appear in the western sky.  As the sky brightens with the sun rising in the east, Jupiter sets in the west — opposition.

January 2015 Sky Watching

 Sun

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Days continue to lengthen after the December solstice.  The shaded area of the chart above (click it to see it larger) shows the amount of daylight in January compare to the entire year, the red curve.  Daylight increases by nearly 50 minutes during January; by month’s end the sun is in the sky for 10 hours.  (The chart is calculated from U.S. Naval Observatory data)

Earth at Perihelion

The Earth reaches its closest point to the sun on January 4 at 1  a.m. in its slightly eccentric solar orbit.  The perihelion distance is about 3% closer to the sun than it is at its farthest point (aphelion) on July 6.

Moon Phases

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Phase Date/Time Moonrise Moonset
Full Moon 01/04/15 (10:53 p.m.) 4:34 p.m. 7:14 a.m. (01/05)
Last Quarter 01/13/15 (3:46 a.m.) 12:08 a.m. 11:26 a.m.
New Moon 01/20/15 (7:14 a.m.) 6:55 a.m. 5:28 p.m.
First Quarter 01/27/15 (10:48 a.m.) 11:24 a.m. 1:38 p.m. (01/28)
Times are Central Standard Time for Chicago, Illinois, from US Naval Observatory calculations. (For mjb)

Evening Sky

Four bright planets appear in the evening sky during January.  Mercury, Venus, and Mars appear in the southwestern sky during evening twilight.

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Early in the month Mercury appears near Venus.  When visible, Mercury appears near the horizon and only during twilight.  From Earth, it is never seen in a dark sky.  Venus and Mercury are emerging out of the sun’s glare.  Use Venus to locate Mercury  on days around January 10.  The chart above shows the pair on January when they are less than one-half degree apart with Mars about 20 degrees to the upper left of them.

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Late in the month, the moon passes the western sky planets.  On January 21, it appears with Venus and Mercury, with the two planets separated by about 9 degrees with Mars about 13 degrees to the upper left of the trio.  On January 22, the moon 4 degrees to the right of Mars.  On the next evening the moon is 12 degrees to the upper left of the Red Planet.

Meanwhile, Jupiter rises in the east around 8 p.m. early in the month,

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Jupiter shines from in front of the stars of Leo with its bright star Regulus.  The head of the lion figure in the stars resembles a backwards question mark and is commonly known as “The Sickle.”  The chart above shows Jupiter and Leo on January 10, when Jupiter and Regulus are 9 degrees apart.

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On the night of January 7/8, the moon appears  near Jupiter and Regulus.  The chart above shows them at 2 .m. (January 8) when they appear in the southern sky,

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During the night, Jupiter appears to move westward, as our planet rotates.  The chart above shows Jupiter and Leo high in the western sky at 4 a.m. on January 15.

 Morning Sky

As Jupiter shines from the western sky  in the mornings of January, Saturn climbs into the southeastern sky.

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This Ringed Wonder shines from in front of the stars of Scorpius, with its bright star Antares.  On January 8, appears about 10 degrees above the star.

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On January 16, the crescent moon appears near Saturn.

Comet

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Comet Lovejoy brightens during the evenings of January.  While comets rarely “burn bright,” this one is brighter than most.  Some observers have reported seeing the comet without optical assistance after they first found it with binoculars.  The chart above shows the comet on the evening of January 15 when it is near Aldebaran and the Pleiades.  Look for it with binoculars.  It appears as a fuzzy mass with a concentrated center.  A fuzzy tail may extend to the east.  Once found with binoculars, look for it with your eyes alone without the help of the binoculars.

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