April 6, 2022: Morning star Venus, Mars, and Saturn continue their morning planet dance in the east-southeast before sunrise. The crescent moon seems to be caught between the Bull’s horns.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:25 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:22 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The morning planet dance continues in the east-southeastern sky before sunrise. Brilliant Venus is over 10° above the horizon at 45 minutes before sunrise. It is stepping eastward quickly. Venus has opened a gap to Mars that spans 7.6°. The gap to Saturn is 8.4°.
Yesterday, Mars marched past Saturn. This morning the Red Planet is 0.9° to the lower left of the Ringed Wonder.
Mars and Saturn are visible in the same field of view of a binocular, but the span to Venus is too large for all three to fit at the same time.
Through a telescope, Venus shows a morning gibbous phase that is 81% illuminated. Mars looks like a red-orange ball. Saturn’s rings are easy to see with magnifications around 100 times. The Saturnian globe appears about 50% smaller than Venus this morning.
This morning the planet ballet begins to add a new dancer as Jupiter slowly enters the sky. After its March 5th conjunction with the sun, the Jovian Giant rises 48 minutes before sunrise today. About 20 minutes later, it is only 3° above the east horizon. An unobstructed view of a cloud-free horizon is needed to see the bright planet. A binocular is helpful.
The Venus – Jupiter gap is 21.7° and diminishing each morning. Venus passes Jupiter in a proximate conjunction, 0.5° or less, later this month.
Adding Jupiter to the morning sky is a lead up to the visibility of all five bright planets simultaneously in the sky during June.
Mercury is hurtling into the evening sky. After its superior conjunction with the sun a few days ago, the speedy planet sets about six minutes later each evening. Tonight, it sets 20 minutes after sunset. By mid-month, it is above the western horizon as night falls. Later this month, it passes the Pleiades star cluster and then is joined by the moon early next month.
The crescent moon, 30% illuminated, is in the west as night falls. It seems to be caught between the horns of Taurus, a precarious place.
Note that this evening, the moon’s light is bright enough to cast your shadow on the ground.
The tips of the horns are marked by Elnath – meaning “the one butting with horns” – and Zeta Tauri. Both are hotter than the sun, indicated by their blue-white color.
Elnath is closer, about 130 light years away, and shines with a brightness of 300 suns. Zeta Tauri is three times farther away and over three times more luminous. From these factors, Elnath looks brighter in our sky.
At this season, the head of Taurus is below the horns. It is outlined by the “V” made by Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster. Aldebaran is about half the distance of Elnath and shines at about half the luminosity of it. Taurus’ brightest star is the ninth brightest star visible from the mid-northern latitudes.
The Pleiades star cluster is to the lower right of the Bull’s head, riding on the animal’s back.
Tomorrow evening, the moon is brighter and higher in the sky when it appears near the foot of Castor.
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