Moon Watch

The Moon will be full on April 27, 2002.

Planet Watch

Mercury emerged into our evening sky April 18th.

Venus is low in the southwestern evening sky. Venus sets more than an hour and a half after the Sun sets.

Mars sets about four hours after the Sun. You will find the red planet in the southwestern sky. Mars will be about 130 times dimmer than its western evening sky companion, Venus.

Jupiter is high in the western sky by the end of evening twilight. The giant planet will be the “first star” to appear after sunset. Jupiter resides at the “foot of Gemini,” at the western edge of the constellation Gemini, the twins. Gemini is represented by two starlines to the northeast of Orion. Jupiter marks the point at the foot of the northern twin, Castor.

Saturn is north of Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus the Bull. Saturn is not as bright as Jupiter, but it will be easy to spot within the v-shaped constellation Taurus. Both the bull and the planet Saturn will be well into the western sky by the onset of darkness.

An Array of Planets

Ok, planet-watchers. Tonight we begin to see a great array of planets in the western evening sky: Every planet visible with the unaided eye is now visible.

We discuss the planets in order going away from the western horizon; Mercury is the planet closest to the western horizon.

Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and is thus a fast mover.

You’ll be able to observe this world over the next few weeks as it ascends away from the horizon and then descends down again.

Venus is the brilliant planet to the east of Mercury. You can gauge Mercury’s position shift in relation to Venus. Venus is higher in the sky and the brightest of the five planets.

Mars is also low on the horizon with Venus and Mercury. Although Mars is not nearly as bright as Venus, it will appear as a crimson dot. This crimson hue is caused by the presence of iron oxide (rust) in the thin Martian atmosphere and soil.

Saturn is the bright beacon in the constellation Taurus the Bull.

You will not be able to observe Saturn’s rings without optical aid, yet Saturn is as bright as it is because of the ring system.

Jupiter is the last planet in the array. Jupiter resides at the foot of the Gemini twins. This is the second brightest planet of the five. It will also be the last of the planets to set (which will happen late in the evening.)

If you want to watch the motions of the planets, this is the time to start your planet plotting.

A couple of quick notes about planet motions:

(1) The closer a planet is to the Sun, the faster its motion in our sky will be. Mercury is a very fast mover. Jupiter and Saturn appear to lumber leisurely across the sky.

(2) ALSO, by June, most of these planets will be difficult to observe, for the Sun will appear to be moving amongst them.

We’ll lose Saturn and Mercury in May.

We’ll lose Mars and Jupiter in June, and Venus in July.

(Of course, we’ll get them all back.)

So, go out during the next few weeks to see a sky replete with planets. This array won’t last forever.

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