April 8, 2023: The bright moon approaches the Scorpion during the night. Saturn, Venus, Mercury, and Mars are visible during nighttime hours.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:22 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:24 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:
The bright moon, 95% illuminated, is low in the southwestern sky at one hour before sunrise. It is near Zubenelgenubi, Scorpion’s southern claw, although on current celestial maps, the star is part of Libra along with Zubeneschamali.
The moon seems to step eastward from night to night. Tomorrow, it covers the star Dschubba – Scorpion’s forehead – for sky watchers in New Zealand. (One day in the Americas; the morning of April 10 in New Zealand.)
Fifteen minutes later, find Saturn nearly 10° above the east-southeast horizon. Its viewing prospects improve slowly each morning. In three mornings, it rises before the beginning of morning twilight, gaining about two minutes of rising time compared to daybreak.
Saturn leads a parade of planets during the nighttime hours. The Ringed Wonder is visible before sunrise in the east. It is west of the sun. Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, and Mars are east of the sun.
While Jupiter is east of the sun, it sets about five minutes after our central star. It passes on the far side of the sun in three days and reappears in the eastern sky during May.
Brilliant Venus is the easiest planet to find after sunset. Forty-five minutes after sundown, it is nearly 30° above the western horizon. It steps eastward against the Taurus sidereal background.
Tonight, it is 3.9° to the lower left of Alcyone, the brightest star in the Pleiades star cluster. Venus passes the cluster in two nights. Note that Aldebaran, Taurus’ brightest star, is about 15° to the upper left of the planet.
Through a binocular, Venus and the Pleiades appear together. Without the moon’s presence for a few hours this evening, the planet and the star cluster make a pretty scene to the unaided eye.
After the Pleiades conjunction, Venus steps between the Pleiades and the Hyades. It passes between Aldebaran and Alcyone on the nights of the 12th and 13th. Look each clear evening, watch the planet pass in front of the Bull’s distant starfields, clearly showing the planet’s nightly changing place.
This evening note Sirius, about 60° to the left of Venus, and the Evening Star are about the same altitude – height above the horizon. The brightest star and the brightest planet appear at about the same altitude in the western sky.
Mercury, about 20° to the lower right and nearly 10° above the west-northwest horizon, appears as a bright starlike body, although dimmer than Venus. It sets about 100 minutes after sundown, and it is making its best evening appearance for the year. The plane of the solar system is favorably tilted against the western horizon, opening a favorable view of the inner solar system for northern hemisphere sky watchers. During evening hours, this occurs only during a few days during a springtime month. For the morning, this occurs during autumn months.
Mars is the fourth bright planet visible during the night. It is about two-thirds of the way up in the west-southwest, below an arc of four bright stars – Procyon, Pollux, Castor, and Capella – and in front of Gemini, near Castor’s foot, Tejat Posterior.
The Red Planet is slowly marching eastward in front of Gemini and generally toward Pollux. It is less than 40° to the upper left of Venus. The gap between the two planets narrows each evening.
The moon, 90% illuminated, is low in the southeast at four hours after sunset. It is only 7° above the horizon and below the Scorpion’s claws. Look for the lunar orb near the creature’s forehead tomorrow morning.
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