April 13, 2022: A planetary dance line is forming in the eastern morning sky with Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn. In the evening sky, the moon is near the Tail of Leo.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:14 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:30 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Spica rises at sunset. Two hours later, the star is about 20° up in the southeast. The moon is over 30° to the upper right of the star.
When a Full moon appears near Spica, this is a celestial marker that the spring season has arrived in the northern hemisphere.
A Full moon is opposite the sun. When a star is in opposition to the sun, it rises at sunset. A full moon appearing near a bright star or planet indicates that all of these objects are in the opposite part of the sky from the sun.
Watch this with the bright outer planets (BOPs) – Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn – as Mercury and Venus do not appear opposite the sun. Currently, when the moon passes the morning planets, its phase is a waning crescent. Each month when the moon passes the distant worlds, its phase is thicker. Earth is slowly catching up to these planets. Soon the Last Quarter moon appears near them. Then the waning gibbous appears near the BOPs. When the Full moon near appears the planet, it is near its opposition with the sun, meaning Earth is between the planet and the sun.
Saturn’s opposition occurs on August 14, followed by Jupiter’s on September 26. Mars’ opposition is December 7.
The corresponding full moons are August 11, September 10, and December 7. The moon covers Mars on opposition evening for observers across Europe, Greenland, and most of North America.
Four bright planets are forming a celestial dance line in the eastern morning sky. At forty-five minutes before sunup, brilliant Venus is over 9° above the east-southeast horizon. Jupiter, emerging from bright twilight, is nearly 3° above the east horizon and 15.6° to the lower left of Venus.
Venus is quickly stepping toward Jupiter for a proximate conjunction, 0.5° or closer, on April 30.
Meanwhile, Mars is 9.8° to the upper right of Venus. Saturn is 5.6° to the upper right of the Red Planet.
Jupiter, Venus, and Mars are in front of the dim stars of Aquarius. The constellation has no bright stars, and with the growing twilight, the dimmer stars are difficult to see without the optical assist of a binocular.
Saturn is slowly moving eastward in front of the stars of Capricornus. The constellation’s brighter stars can be seen with Saturn and Mars through a binocular. Saturn can be seen near Deneb Algedi and Nashira, while Mars is passing Iota Capricorni.
Mars and Saturn can be seen in the same binocular field for two more mornings before the gap between them is too large to fit into the same field.
Mercury is climbing into the western evening sky after sunset. The planet is near the horizon, but bright enough to look for it from a hillside or elevated structure with a clear view toward the west-northwest.
Speedy Mercury sets 62 minutes after sunset. Begin looking for the planet with a binocular about 30 minutes after sunset when the planet is over 5° above the horizon. Fifteen minutes later, the planet is nearly 3° up in the sky.
Farther eastward, the bright gibbous moon, 91% illuminated, is nearly halfway up in the southeast. During the past few evenings, the waxing moon appeared with Leo. Two evenings ago, it was to the right of the Sickle. Last evening, it was in the middle of the constellation.
This evening the lunar orb is 8.2° to the right of Denebola, the Lion’s tail.
The regal Leo is a westward-facing Lion. The stars make a backwards question mark with Regulus at the bottom. This figure is also known as the Sickle of Leo, an agricultural cutting tool. The lion’s tail and haunches are outlined by a triangle of stars.
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