April 3, 2023: Four planets – Venus, Mercury, Mars, and Saturn – are visible during nighttime hours. The bright gibbous moon approaches the Full moon phase.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:30 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:18 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location. Times are calculated by the U.S. Naval Observatory’s MICA computer program.
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Here is today’s planet forecast:
Saturn is visible in the east-southeast before sunrise. Find a clear horizon in that direction. The planet is over 6° above the horizon. It rises 84 minutes before the sun and the time interval increases two minutes each day.
Jupiter, about a week before solar conjunction, is lost in the sun’s glare. It sets less than 30 minutes after the sun, and loses three minutes of setting time each evening.
The bright moon, 96% illuminated and two days before the Full moon phase, is about one-third of the way up in the east-southeast as darkness descends. It is 9.1° to the lower right of Denebola, the Lion’s tail.
Farther westward, Mars is high in the west-southwest near Castor’s foot. Notice the four stars – Procyon, Pollux, Castor, and Capella – make an arc across the western sky. Mars is below Castor and distinctly yellow-orange in color. This evening the Red Planet is 3.0° to the upper right of Tejat Posterior, the heel.
Mars is marching eastward, generally toward Pollux. It passes 5.0° from the star in a wide conjunction on May 8.
This evening use a binocular to spot Mars 2.8° to the upper left of the star cluster, Messier 35 (M 35 on the chart). Tejat Posterior and Propus, the toe, are in the field of view.
Brilliant Venus continues to dominate the western sky after sundown. It is less than one-third of the way from the horizon to overhead. Its brightness competes with the lights on low-flying airplanes.
Venus is 10 times brighter than Sirius, the night’s brightest star, that is slightly higher than Venus in the south-southwest.
Mercury is less than 10° above the horizon, and 21.0° to the lower right of Venus at 45 minutes after sundown. It is approaching its best appearance of the year. At that time, it sets more than 100 minutes after sundown. During twilight, it is 10° above the horizon and to the lower right of Venus.
This is the best view of the solar system’s innermost planet. It seems to hug the sun, never straying far from it as it shuttles from the morning sky to evening and back again. When the solar system is tilted favorably during spring evenings and autumn mornings, northern hemisphere sky watchers have their best Mercury views.
As Mercury makes its best appearance, Venus steps eastward into Taurus on the 7th and passes the Pleiades star cluster three nights later. Tonight, the Evening Star is 9.1° below the stellar bundle, too far apart to fit into the same binocular field of view. Watch Venus close the gap on the star cluster, then pass between it and the Hyades cluster.
- 2023, October 23: Venus at Greatest ElongationOctober 23, 2023: Venus moves to its farthest angular distance from the sun today, known as greatest elongation. During morning twilight, the Morning Star passes Leo’s Chertan.
- 2023, October 22: Moon Approaches SaturnOctober 22, 2023: During evening hours, the gibbous moon nears Saturn in the southern sky. Venus and Jupiter are visible during morning twilight.
- 2023, October 21: Three Bright Planets, First Quarter MoonOctober 21, 2023: Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are easy to locate during nighttime hours. The First Quarter moon phase occurs this evening.
- 2023, October 20: Jupiter’s Double Shadows, Mercury at Superior ConjunctionOctober 20: After midnight, Jupiter’s moons’ shadows dance across the cloud tops. Mercury is at superior conjunction.
- 2023, October 19: Poured Moon, See Planet UranusOctober 19: Sagittarius seems to pour the moon into the sky this evening. Find Uranus with a binocular.