April 12, 2023: The moon is in front of the Teapot of Sagittarius before sunrise. After nightfall, Venus, Mercury, and Mars dance against the evening’s stars.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:16 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 7:28 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:
One hour before daybreak, the gibbous moon, 61% illuminated, is in the Teapot of Sagittarius. It appears to be brewing in the pot. With the bright moonlight, use a binocular to see the lunar tea cooking in the teapot.
The lunar orb’s phase loses about 10% of its light each morning. The half morning phase, Last Quarter, occurs tomorrow morning at 4:11 a.m. CDT.
Later today, early tomorrow morning in Australia and Indonesia, the moon covers or occults the star Tau Sagittarii (τ Sgr on the chart), a star in the pot’s handle.
At forty-five minutes before sunrise, Saturn is nearly 10° above the east-southeast horizon. It continues to emerge from bright sunlight into the morning sky.
Jupiter is soon to follow after its conjunction yesterday. By month’s end, it rises 30 minutes before the sun, becoming visible later during May.
Forty-five minutes after sundown, brilliant Venus is nearly 30° above the western horizon and 3.0° to the upper left of the Pleiades star cluster. Find Aldebaran, Taurus’ brightest star, 10.6° to the upper left of the Evening Star.
Venus is below an imaginary line from the star cluster to Aldebaran. Tomorrow evening it is above the line.
Venus and the Pleiades star cluster are in the same binocular field of view. Whether viewed through a binocular or without its assist, the sight is magnificent.
Mercury, one day after its greatest elongation or largest separation from the sun, is 10.0° above the west-northwest horizon and over 20° to the lower right of Venus. The speedy planet is beginning to catch up with Earth, passing between our planet and the sun on May 1st.
Beginning in three nights, the planet sets earlier and dims considerably. Even this evening, it is dimmer than it was a week ago. It is visible to the unassisted human eyes, but a binocular helps with the initial identification. This evening the planet sets 105 minutes after sunset.
Three planets, Venus, Mercury, and Mars are in the western sky, spanning nearly 60°. Venus continues to cut the gap to Mars that is over 36° this evening. Mars is dimmer than Mercury and about the same visual intensity as Pollux, one of the Gemini Twins, to the Red Planet’s upper left.
Mars is marching eastward in front of Gemini’s distant stars, only at about half the speed of Venus’ nightly eastward step. This evening the planet is 0.9° to the lower right of Mebsuta, meaning “the out-stretched paw of the lion,” below Castor, the second Twin. In two nights, Mars seems to pass closely to the background star.
While Mars is visible when Mercury is easily seen at 45 minutes after sundown, look for Gemini’s dimmer stars at the end of evening twilight, around 90 minutes after sundown.
Watch the dance of the three planets after sunset each evening.
- 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.
- 2023, October 18: Moon-Antares Conjunction, Bright PlanetsOctober 18, 2023: The moon is near Antares after sunset. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are in the sky during the nighttime hours.