April 28, 2022: Four planets – Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn – are in the eastern morning sky. Look for Mercury and the Pleiades star cluster in the west-northwest after sundown.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:51 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:46 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
NASA recently reported that over 5,000 exoplanets, those around other stars, are known. The most common way to find these far-off worlds is to monitor the light from the system’s central star. A planet moving between the star and our telescopes makes the light dim slightly and rhythmically. Watching this light dim repeatedly indicates that a planet is present.
The morning planets are strung along the eastern horizon, like jewels on a necklace. From brightest to dimmest, they are Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars.
At 45 minutes before sunup, brilliant Venus is over 8° above the eastern horizon. It rises ninety-four minutes before the sun and over ten minutes after the beginning of morning twilight.
Venus is quickly stepping toward Jupiter, 2.3° to the lower left of Earth’s Twin Planet. In two mornings, Venus passes very close to Jupiter. This close conjunction, known here as a proximate conjunction, occurs when Venus passes within 0.5° of Jupiter. On that morning, both fit into a telescopic eyepiece with a magnification of about 75x.
For sky watchers, these close conjunctions are spectacular to see, two of the brightest objects in the sky appear next to each other, although they are millions of miles away in space.
This morning Venus and Jupiter easily fit into a binocular’s field of view.
Mars, just slightly dimmer than Saturn, is 15.1° to the upper right of Venus and Saturn is 15.9° beyond Mars. The Ringed Wonder is nearly 20° above the southeast horizon.
The planetary jewels span 33.3° from Jupiter to Saturn. Jupiter is slowly inching eastward compared to Saturn as Venus and Mars move toward Jupiter along the plane of the solar system.
Tomorrow morning Venus and Jupiter are only 1.1° apart!
Bright Mercury is in the west-northwest after sundown, in its best evening display of the year for northern hemisphere sky watchers. It is approaching the Pleiades star cluster. This evening the speedy planet is 1.7° to the lower left of the cluster.
Find them over 10° up in the west-northwest at 45 minutes after the sun sets. Mercury sets 113 minutes after the sun.
Mercury and the star cluster easily fit into the same field of a binocular. While you’re using the binocular, spot Aldebaran with the Hyades star cluster.
Mercury reaches greatest elongation after midnight tonight in the western hemisphere. The angle is only 26.0°, but the ecliptic has a very large angle with the western horizon. This gives northern hemisphere observers a favorable view of Mercury’s position. This is the third smallest elongation of the seven appearances of the planet this year.
Tomorrow evening, Mercury passes 1.3° to the lower left of the cluster.
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