Astronomical SIGHTS Coming to a SKY NEAR YOU!
CONJUNCTIONS OF PLANETS, THE MOON, LUNAR AND SOLAR ECLIPSES, ETC
Graphics c/o Starry Night Education www.starrynighteducation.com.
This page updated Apr 20 and includes events to end of June, 2017.
See the COMING EVENTS page for detailed information.
The CURRENT COMETS page has more details and finder charts for visible comets.
Sky Sights: April - June 2017:
Several planets are visible in the west after sunset in the first months of 2017. Mars is still a reddish dot above the SW horizon and will continue to be visible until late spring 2017 and Venus is ending its appearance in the SW sky (March) but is replaced for a short time by Mercury which takes over as Evening Star until mid-April or so.
Mars and Venus have been prominent in the W and SW sky all spring long but Venus is quickly dropping towards the Sun. It is lost by the third week in March. But for a short time at the end of March, Mercury takes over as Evening Star in the west and on March 29 and 30, the thin crescent Moon is near first Mercury, then Mars. Both planets will be below the western horizon soon, Mercury disappearing first by mid-April, and then by mid-June, Mars will also be gone. But don't miss Mars near the Pleiades on Apr 21. It passes right through M35 on Jun 7 but this will be in bright twilight with Mars very close to the Sun.
Jupiter is a morning planet now and is finally far enough from the Sun to appear in dark sky before dawn. You will see it rising before midnight in February and it reaches opposition in April when it will be in the sky all night long.
Saturn takes a bit longer to clear the eastern horizon but by the start of April, it rises around 2 am DST. By month-end, look for it around midnight. Saturn reaches opposition on June 15 and is in the sky all night long afterwards. It will, once again be the showpiece for summer star parties.
A summary of the entire 2017 year of ASTRONOMY events can be found here:
ASTRONOMY EVENTS 2017
An astronomical calendar for 2017 (with diagrams of sky sights like those below) is available for download from Alan Dyer's website here: www.amazingsky.com (look at the bottom of the "about Alan" page).
April - May - June 2017 Sky Events
Apr 1, Sat: Mercury at Greatest Elongation East (19°)
Mercury is an evening star in March and April and reaches its farthest point east of the Sun today. It is located almost straight up from the point where the Sun sets in the West and will be visible for a good hour or more after twilight is gone in evening skies. It is bright at magnitude 0 and should be easy to spot if you have a clear horizon towards the west. Mars and the crescent Moon are in the same part of the sky. Diagram below is for 8 pm when Mercury is still 5° above the horizon. More in the BAS WEBLOG
Mercury is farthest from Sun Apr 1.
In the chart below, note that Mars is moving upwards from the bottom of its track and for a few nights around Apr 21, is right beside the Pleiades, M45. Mercury's track shows it moving upwards Apr 1 and on Apr 10, the planet stops and starts heading back towards the Sun. It gets harder and harder to see as it is also dropping in brightness, 4 magnitudes in two weeks!
Apr 7, Fri: Jupiter at Opposition
The Planet King of the solar system is at opposition on Apr 7 when it opposite the Sun and lined up with the Earth on the same side of the solar system. Planets at opposition then appear at best at local midnight and rise when the Sun sets and set when the Sun rises again in the east. At opposition, the planet is in the night sky from dusk to dawn and appears brightest and largest in our sky. Jupiter will be -2.5 magnitude and 44 arc-sec across. The only planet that gets bigger is Venus when it is closest to Earth, which coincidentally is occurring in February.
Give Jupiter an hour or two to clear the murky air at the horizon and viewing will improve a great deal. Diagram below shows the path of Jupiter retrograding away from Spica until June 8 when it starts "prograde" motion again and starts back again towards Spica. It finishes the viewing season in September sitting about 3° above Spica over the western horizon (if you can see it in the solar glare). Between now and then, there will be lots of Jupiter-viewing nights available. Saturn is a summer planet as well. More in the BAS WEBLOG
Apr 21, Fri: Mars near Pleiades and Aldebaran
Mars is closest to the Pleiades tonight at just under 4°, but it has been nearby (less than 5°) for several days. Aldebaran is to the east of Mars and the Hyades Cluster also adds some background sparkle to the scene. A nice photo opportunity! Look west after sunset for this grouping and note that the dwarf planet Ceres is also nearby shining at magnitude 8.32 -it may be visible in binoculars.
Apr 23, Sun: Crescent Moon near Venus and Neptune in dawn sky
Venus appears near the Crescent Moon and Neptune on the morning of Apr 23. Neptune rises in dark sky around 4:45 am followed by Venus 15 minutes later and the 3-day before new crescent Moon 15 minutes after that. The separation between Venus and Moon is 8.5 degrees, not close by any means, but rising in twilight with a hint of earthshine on the Moon and Venus at magnitude -4.5 means photo op in my book!
Apr 27/28, Thu/Fri: Moon joins Mars, Pleiades and Aldebaran
A crescent Moon moves past the Hyades in the western sky on Apr 27 (2-days old) and Apr 28 (3-days old). Mars is now over 6° from M45 and about 8° from Aldebaran. Mars viewing will be drawing to a close at the end of May as it sinks below the western horizon. Even in March and April it is setting in evening twilight and only visible for an hour or two after sunset. A daytime occultation of Aldebaran is visible from North America on Apr 28 at 12:28 pm DST. See entry for Apr 28 below.
Apr 28, Fri: Moon occults Aldebaran in daylight
A crescent Moon moves along the left side of the V of the Hyades Cluster on Apr 28 and a daytime occultation of Aldebaran is visible from North America at 12:28 pm DST. This is a relatively easy observation for those with properly aligned Go-To telescopes, and with a 2.5 day old Moon, it may be possible to locate it with binoculars first and then your main telescope. Diagram below shows Moon and Aldebaran in black sky, but it will of course be quite blue and the Moon will be much less obvious. The Moon will be 42 degrees high and about 32 degrees away from the Sun, and it is pretty close to "high noon!" It would be a good idea to cover the scope with some kind of sun protection to keep it cool and you could also use that cloth over your head to shade your eyes at the eyepiece. Good luck.
May 22/23, Mon/Tues: Crescent Moon, Venus, Mercury at dawn
A 3.5 day before new Moon sits this morning (May 22) above the eastern horizon less than 4 degrees from Venus (half the separation of last month). Move ahead one night (chart below) and a thinner moon moves into the 20 degree gap between Venus and Mercury. Both nights offer opportunities to get a nice image in twilight dawn sky. Diagram below shows the sky on May 23 with Moon between Mercury and Venus.
June 3, Sat: Venus and Uranus less than 2° apart in dawn sky
A close pass of Venus to Uranus occurs in the morning sky early Saturday. Venus and Uranus are 1° 40 min apart in twilight skies and the pair is about 10° above the eastern horizon at 4:30 am when it is still dark enough to easily spot 5.8 magnitude Uranus in binoculars. Venus shines brightly at -4.5, there is no missing it.
June 15, Thu: Saturn at opposition
Saturn reaches opposition just a few days before summer solstice, so the long daylight period leaves the least amount of dark viewing. But at magnitude 0.0, Saturn does not need dark sky and will be visible even in twilight. Ring tilt is a maximum at 26.7° and the northern plane of the rings is tilted our way. The rings span is 42" at Saturn opposition and is a close second to Jupiter's disc at its opposition (44") but when Jupiter displays a smaller disc outside of opposition, the apparent ring size could be larger than the Jovian disc. The actual diameter of the farthest visible ring of Saturn is larger than the face of Jupiter by about 10%, so technically the largest planetary structure in our solar system (excluding the Sun and comets) are the rings of Saturn. Diagram below shows Saturn at about 1 am (local mid-night) at magnitude 0 the brightest object in a beautifully rich part of the Milky Way. Antares in Scorpius is a full magnitude fainter.
June 20/21, Tue: Venus and Crescent Moon at dawn
A five-day before new crescent Moon appears near Uranus (7 degree separation) on June 19 and then sits to the right of Venus June 20 and left of Venus June 21, about equal distance each night, 7 to 8 degrees. The much thinner crescent on June 21 (3 days before new) makes for a prettier picture with earthshine and bright Venus right nearby.
Jun 22, Thu: Moon occults Aldebaran in daylight (again)!
A second daytime occultation of Aldebaran by an even thinner crescent (1.8 days before new) happens in blue sky in mid-morning on June 22 around 9:40 am DST. The moon is less than 2 days thin and 50 degrees high while the Sun is much closer than last month only 22 degrees east of the Moon. Be careful not to point your scope accidentally at the Sun while you are looking through your finder. It may be possible to locate it with binoculars first and then your main telescope. Diagram below shows Moon and Aldebaran in black sky, but it will, of course, be quite blue and the Moon will be much less obvious. This event is earlier in the day than last month's but it is still be a good idea to shade you scope from sunlight. View with a light shield over your head to darken the view in the eyepiece as much as possible. Good luck.