April 7, 2023: Follow the moon across the sky during the night. Saturn is visible before sunrise. Venus, Mercury, and Mars are in the western evening sky.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:24 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:23 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.
At Chicago’s latitude, daylight approaches thirteen hours. Today it is a minute short of that duration and tomorrow it is a few minutes longer.
Summaries of Current Sky Events
Here is today’s planet forecast:
At an hour before sunrise, the bright moon, 98% illuminated, is over 15° above the southwest horizon and 7.8° to the upper left of Spica, Virgo’s brightest star. Block out the moonlight with your hand to find Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali, the Scorpion’s claws, to the moon’s upper left.
Saturn is visible at this hour, but wait another 15 minutes as twilight increases and Earth rotates eastward to place the Ringed Wonder higher into the east-southeastern sky. Rising a few minutes earlier each morning compared to sunrise, Saturn is 8.0° above the horizon. Find a place with a clear view in that direction.
Saturn is typically the dimmest of the five bright planets, but it is among this morning’s brightest starlike bodies. It is certainly not brilliant like Venus or equal to Mercury’s brightness this evening.
Jupiter is technically in the evening sky, but it is immersed in bright sunlight. It sets only eleven minutes after the sun.
Forty-five minutes after sundown, brilliant Venus is over 25° up in the west. This evening it steps eastward from Aries into Taurus, 4.8° to the lower left of Alcyone, the brightest star in the Pleiades star cluster.
Venus moves quickly eastward, about 1° each evening. It passes the Pleiades cluster in three evenings.
Use a binocular to spot Venus with the Pleiades. This is a wonderous view.
Look for Sirius, the night’s brightest star, in the south-southwest at about the same altitude – height above the horizon – as Venus and 60° to the left of the brilliant planet. The brightest star and brightest planet are at the same altitude in the evening sky.
On the 22nd the moon joins Venus, the Pleiades and Hyades clusters, and Aldebaran. This is a picturesque view. Mark it on your calendar and hope for a clear sky.
Mercury, less than 20° to the lower right of Venus and nearly 10° above the west-northwest horizon, sets 100 minutes after sunset. It reaches its greatest separation from the sun in four nights.
The planet is bright and can be found without a binocular’s optical assist. Find a clear horizon looking toward Mercury. An elevated structure or hillside helps with the view across any obstructions.
During the next several evenings, the planet is at its best evening views for the year. On spring evenings from the northern hemisphere, the plane of the solar system makes a very favorable angle with the western horizon, providing advantageous views of the speedy planet when it moves from superior conjunction to the east of the sun.
Mars is two-thirds of the way up in the sky in the west-southwest, near Castor’s heel, Tejat Posterior. It is below an arc of four stars – Procyon, Pollux, Castor, and Capella – that is high in the western sky.
The Red Planet is marching eastward in front of Gemini’s background stars, over 40° to the upper left of Venus. A month ago, they were over 63° apart. The planetary gap continues to close each evening.
Mars is generally trekking toward Pollux, passing in a wide conjunction on May 8th.
Mars’ brightness fades as Earth pulls away. The distance is 141 million miles tonight, nearly three times the separation when Earth and Mars were closest on November 30, 2022.
The moon rises nearly two hours after sunset, providing a short window to see the sky at its darkest between the end of evening twilight and moonrise. Two hours later the lunar orb is nearly 20° above the southeast horizon, 3.2° to the upper right of Zubenelgenubi.
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