Tag: Planets

2019, July 9: Saturn at Opposition

On July 9, Saturn is at opposition, nearly a month after Jupiter was in the opposite direction in the sky from the sun.

Saturn is near opposition for several nights before and after reaching this point opposite the sun.  To locate the planet step outside after the sky darkens.  The chart above shows the sky about 90 minutes after sunset; check your sources for the time of sunset at your location. (For example, in Chicago, Illinois, the time for the above chart is 10 p.m. CDT.  Near Omaha, Nebraska, 90 minutes after sunset is 10:30 p.m. CDT.)

Jupiter is the bright “star” that is almost south, but less than one-third of the way up in the sky.  Golden-orange Antares is to the lower right of Jupiter.  Saturn is farther left of Jupiter in the southeast, lower in the sky than Jupiter.  Saturn is among the stars of Sagittarius, brighter than those surrounding stars, but not as bright as Jupiter.  For perspective, the moon is outside the chart.  The gibbous moon is in the southwest, above the bluish star Spica.  On July 15, the nearly full moon is to the right of Saturn.

Through a telescope, the planet’s rings are revealed.  If you’re careful, you might see its a few of its moons, depending on the diameter of the lens or the mirror and the magnification that is used.  The large gap in the rings, Cassini’s Division, might be seen as well.

Viewing Saturn through a telescope is one of life’s memorable experiences.  If you view this spectacular ringed wonder through a telescope, you will certainly remember.  A child will remember this experience.

Opposition occurs when Earth passes between a planet farther from the sun than Earth (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) and the sun.  The planet rises at sunset, appears in the south around midnight, and sets in the west.  When at opposition, the outer planets are closest to Earth, at their brightest points in the sky, and provide the best telescopic views.

Saturn appears at opposition again on July 20, 2020, when it reaches that point just six days after Jupiter’s opposition.  Jupiter passes Saturn in December 2020 for a Great Conjunction that occurs about every 20 years.

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2019, June 5-30: Mercury and Mars in the Evening Sky

The chart above shows the evening positions of Mercury and Mars from June 5, 2019, to June 30, 2019. The moon is part of the scene on June 5 and June 6.

About 45 minutes after sunset, Mercury and Mars are visible in the west-northwest  beneath Pollux and Castor, the Gemini Twins.  Early in the month, the  stars are about one-third of the way up in the sky.

Mercury is beginning an evening appearance.  Early in the month, it is brighter, but closer to the horizon.

Twilight lasts longer this time of year, so it’s not visible in the latter sky glow as the sky darkens further.  So, the upcoming conjunction with Mars is better viewed with a binocular.  Both planets’ movements are easier viewed across several nights.

On June 5, the waxing crescent moon, the waxing crescent moon that is 2.7 days past the New phase and only 9% illuminated is 6.3° to the upper left of Mars, which sets at the end of evening twilight.  At this time the Red Planet is about 13° up in the west-northwest, a little over halfway between Castor and Pollux and the horizon.

Each evening until the conjunction, Mercury is closer to Mars.

On June 18, Mercury passes close to Mars, less than the moon’s apparent diameter.  The chart above shows them 45 minutes after sunset when they appear in the west-northwest.  Use a binocular to locate them.  Can you see them without a binocular?

As the month progresses, the planets appear lower and in a brighter sky. Continue to use a binocular to track the planets.

By month’s end, a dimmer Mercury appears to the upper left of Mars.

2019, May 19-21: Moon Passes Jupiter

As Jupiter approaches opposition, the event when our planet Earth is between Jupiter and the sun.  Jupiter and the sun are in opposite sides of the sky.  Jupiter rises when the sun sets and Jupiter sets when the sun rises.  Jupiter is in the south at midnight, when the sun is in the south at noon.

A few weeks before opposition, Jupiter appears in the evening and the morning sky.  Here’s what’s to see depending on when you step outside to see it.

Evening

  • May 19: At 10:30 p.m. CDT, the moon, 15.2 days past its New phase and 98% illuminated, is nearly 7° to the upper right of Jupiter and almost 9° to the left of Antares in the southeastern sky.

  • May 20: At 11 p.m. CDT, the moon, 16.2 days old and 94% illuminated, is nearly 7° up in the southeast and 6.5° to the lower left of Jupiter.

Morning

By morning , the moon appears in the southwest.

  • May 20:  At the beginning of morning twilight (about 4 a.m. CDT), the moon, 15.4 days old and 98% illuminated, is 4.6° to the right of Jupiter.  The Giant planet is 24° up in the south-southwest.

  • May 21:  At the beginning of morning twilight, the moon, 16.5 days old and 93% illuminated, is 25° up in the south and 8.2° to the left of Jupiter.

 

2019, May 6-7: Aldebaran, Mars, and the Crescent Moon

(On the chart above, the moon’s size is exaggerated.  At this scale, the star Zeta would be covered in May 7.)

The chart shows the western sky at about 1 hour after sunset.  Start looking for the moon beginning about 30 minutes after sunset.  Check your sources — television, newspaper, or Internet — for the time of your local sunset.

On May 6, the crescent moon (2.1 days past the New phase, 5% illuminated), 11° up in the west-northwest, is 2.2° to the upper right of Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus.   The moon is nearly 14° below Mars.

An hour after sunset, locate Mars between Elnath and Zeta Tauri, 4.5° to the lower left of Elnath and 3.4° to the upper right of the Bull’s southern horn.

On the next evening, an hour after sunset, the moon (3.1 days old, 11% illuminated) is 0.3° to the lower left of Zeta Tauri. Mars is 3.3° to the upper right of the star.

Use a binocular to look that the moon these two evenings.  You’ll notice that the moon’s night portion is slightly illuminated.  This is known as Earthshine.  From the moon, Earth is nearly full, and would be very bright to an observer on the lunar surface; it is bright enough to cast shadows on the moon’s night portion.  Earthshine is from reflected sunlight from Earth’s clouds, land, and oceans.  This sunlight gently illuminates the night portion of the moon in the same manner our planet is illuminated when the moon is near its Full phase.  Click here for an example of the crescent moon with Earthshine.

2019, May 2: Morning Star Venus Meets Crescent Moon

On the morning of May 2, about 30 minutes before sunrise, the moon (27.1 days past the New phase, 7% illuminated) — a thin waning crescent phase — is 4.3° to the lower right of Venus. Look for them low in the east.  Venus is only about 5° up in the east.

Check your local sources — newspaper, television, or internet — for the time of sunrise at your location.  Although they are lower at that time, start looking for them about 45 minutes before the time of your local sunrise.

To find this pair, you’ll need a clear eastern horizon.  Stand on a hill or in an open spot with no trees or houses nearby.

The time interval between the beginning of morning twilight and sunrise grows 24 minutes from this morning through mid-June.  While Venus is rising at the same time interval before sunrise for the next month, it appears in a brighter sky.

The moon is New on May 4.  Look for it during the early evening of May 6 in the west as the sky darkens.

2019, April 22-26: The Morning Moon With Jupiter and Saturn

The moon moves past the morning planets — Jupiter and Saturn — during late April 2019.  The chart above shows them about one hour before sunrise.  Check your local sources — TV, newspaper, Internet — for your local sunrise time.  Here are the highlights of the mornings:

  • April 22: At the beginning of morning twilight, the moon (17.0 days old. 90% illuminated), nearly 28° up in the south-southwest, is over 7° to the upper right of Antares.
  • April 23: At 12:30 a.m. CDT, the moon (17.9d, 90%), about 10° up in the southeast, is 2.8° to the upper right of Jupiter. At the beginning of morning twilight, the moon (18.0d, 82%) is 1.5° to the upper right of Jupiter, 25° up in the south. Saturn is 20° up in the south-southeast, about 26° east of Jupiter.
  • April 24: At the beginning of morning twilight, the moon (19.0d, 74%) is nearly between Jupiter and Saturn. The moon is at the top of the lid of the Teapot of Sagittarius, above Kaus Borealis.
  • April 25: At the beginning of morning twilight, now 105 minutes before sunrise, the moon (20.0d, 65%) is 2.7° to the lower right of Saturn.
  • April 26: At the beginning of morning twilight, the moon (21.0d, 55%) is 9.8° to the lower left of Saturn.

2019, April 1-30: Mars Moves Through Taurus

This chart shows the motion of Mars against the starry background of Taurus during April 2019.

In the evening sky, Mars is moving through Taurus’ brighter star field. Follow the planet through a binocular as it passes between the Pleiades star cluster and the Hyades star cluster. The “V” of Taurus is nearly vertical this time of year. The stars of winter are making their final stand in the evening sky for the year, capped by an arc of stars – Procyon, Pollux, Castor and Capella.  The Gemini Twins stand high in the western sky with their arms around the other twin’s shoulders. Sirius is about 25° up in the southwest.  Watch it slowly begin to disappear into bright twilight.  Its last appearance in the evening sky occurs in mid-May.  The sun is in the sky for nearly 12.75 hours and the sky is dark, from the end of evening twilight to the beginning of morning twilight, for slightly over 8 hours.

In the notes that follow, the brightness of celestial objects is noted.  The lower the number the brighter the object.  The brightest stars have magnitudes that are rated 1 on the magnitude scale.  These can be seen from many bright areas.  As you move into suburban areas, magnitudes 2 and 3 are visible.  Fourth and fifth magnitude stars are visible from more rural areas.

Additionally, some stars have proper names as well as Greek letter designations, and sometimes numerical designations.

To determine the end of twilight in your area, find the local time in your area.  Add 100 minutes to your local sunset time.  By that time the sky is dark enough to find the constellations and Mars.

Look in the west about one-third of the way up in the sky, from horizon to overhead.  You’ll find Mars there along with the celestial backdrop of Taurus the Bull.

  • April 1: At the end of evening twilight, Mars, about 28° up in the west, is 3.3° to the left of the Alcyone (η Tau, m = 2.8), the brightest of the Pleiades, and 2.6° below 37 Tauri (37 Tau, m = 4.4). For the next several evenings we have chosen stars in Taurus to reference with Mars.
  • April 2: At the end of evening twilight, Mars is over 27° up in the west.  It is 3.5° to the upper left of Alcyone and 1.9° to the lower right of 37 Tauri.
  • April 3:  At the end of evening twilight, Mars is 1.2° below 37 Tauri.
  • April 4:  At the end of evening twilight, Mars is just below a virtual line that extends from Alcyone to Aldebaran (α Tau, m = 0.8).  The planet is 3.5° to the lower right of Omega Tauri (ω Tau, m = 4.9) and 0.6° below 37 Tauri.
  • April 5: At the end of evening twilight, Mars is 0.3° to the left of 37 Tauri, above a virtual line from Alcyone to Aldebaran.
  • April 6:  After the end of evening twilight, Mars is 0.8° to the upper left of 37 Tauri and 2.5° to the lower right of Omega Tauri.
  • April 7: At the end of twilight, find Mars, 2.1° to the right of Omega Tauri.
  • April 8:  At the end of evening twilight, the moon (3.7 days old, 14% illuminated) is about 6° to the lower left of Mars. The Red Planet is 4.5° to the lower right of Epsilon Tauri (ε Tau, m = 3.5), which compliments Aldebaran’s position in the head of Taurus at the top right point of the “V.”
  • April 9: . At the end of evening twilight, Mars is 1.7° to the upper right of Omega Tauri and 4.2° to the right of Epsilon Tauri, just beneath a virtual line that extends from Aldebaran to Epsilon and to the right. The moon (4.7d, 22%) is not far away, 5.3° above Aldebaran.
  • April 10: At the end of evening twilight, the moon (5.7d, 31%), 41° up in the west, is 3.5° to the upper left of Zeta Tauri (ζ Tau, m = 3.0), the southern horn of Taurus.  Mars, 24° up in the west, is 3.8° to the upper right of Epsilon Tauri, just above the imaginary line at that extends from Aldebaran through Epsilon.
  • April 11: At the end of evening twilight, the moon (6.7d, 42%), over 50° up in the south-southwest, is nearly in the middle of Gemini, about 6° to the upper right of Gamma Geminorum (γ Gem, m = 1.9). Mars is 0.9° to the lower right of Upsilon Tauri (υ Tau, m = 4.2).
  • April 12: At the end of evening twilight, the moon (7.7d, 53%), nearly 60° up in the southwest, is over 7° to the lower left of Pollux (β Gem, m = 1.2). Mars is 0.3° to the upper right of Kappa1 Tauri (κ1 Tau, m=4.2) and 0.3° below Upsilon Tauri.  It also passes 3.5° to the upper right of Epsilon Tauri.
  • April 13: At the end of evening twilight Mars is 0.4° to the upper left of Upsilon Tauri.
  • April 15: Mars is nearly midway between Upsilon Tauri and Tau Tauri (τ Tau, m = 4.3). Through a telescope, Mars is only 4” across, much smaller in apparent size than when it appeared at opposition last summer.
  • April 16: At the end of evening twilight, the moon (11.7d, 92%), nearly 50° up in the southeast, is over 12° to the lower right of Denebola.  Mars (m = 1.6) is 1.3° to the right of Tau Tauri.
  • April 17:  At the end of evening twilight, Mars continues its traverse of Taurus.  This evening it is 0.7° to the lower right of Tau Tauri.
  • April 18: At the end of twilight, Mars is 0.3° to the upper right of Tau Tauri.
  • April 19:  At the end of evening twilight Mars, marching through Taurus, is 0.6° above Tau Tauri.
  • April 20: At the end of evening twilight, Mars is 1.3° above Tau Tauri and 4° to the lower right of Iota Tauri (m=4.6), next star to mark Mars’ course through the starry background.
  • April 21:  At the end of evening twilight, Mars is 2° to the upper left of Tau Tauri and 3.5° to the lower right of Iota Tauri.
  • April 22:  At the end of evening twilight, Mars is 3° to the lower right of Iota Tauri.
  • April 23:At the end of evening twilight, Mars is 2.7° to the right of Iota Tauri and nearly 10° from Zeta Tauri, the southern horn of Taurus.
  • April 24: At the end of evening twilight, Mars is 2.3° to the upper right of Iota Tauri and over 9° to the lower right of Zeta Tauri.  If you have a good western horizon and you can still view the “V” of Taurus, although it is low in the west-northwest, notice that Mars is above it for the next few evenings.  This evening Mars is over 9° to the upper right of Aldebaran.
  • April 25: At the end of evening twilight, Mars, nearly 24° up in the west-northwest, is 2.2° to the upper right of Iota Tauri and over 8° to the lower right of Zeta Tauri.
  • April 26: At the end of evening twilight, Mars is 2.3° to the upper right of Iota Tauri and 8° to the lower right of Zeta Tauri.
  • April 27:  At the end of evening twilight, Mars is 2.6° to the upper right of Iota Tauri and over 7° to the lower right of Zeta Tauri.
  • April 28: At the end of evening twilight, Mars is 2.7° to the upper right of Iota Tauri and about 7° to the lower right of Zeta Tauri.
  • April 29:  At the end of evening twilight, Mars is 3.4° above Iota Tauri and over 6° to the lower right of Zeta Tauri.
  • April 30:  At the end of evening twilight, Mars, nearly 16° up in the west-northwest, is 3.9° above Iota Tauri and about 6° to the lower right of Zeta Tauri.