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Wednesday, April 16, 2014


The Sky This Week - Thursday April 17 to Thursday April 24

The Last Quarter Moon is Tuesday April 22.  Jupiter is the brightest object in the evening sky, visible in the early evening. Mars is prominent in the late evening sky. Saturn rises higher in the evening sky, the Moon is close to Saturn on the 17th. Venus is prominent in the morning sky and occults a star on the 17th.  Mercury is lost in the twilight. The asteroids Vesta and Ceres are visible in binoculars.

The Last Quarter Moon is Tuesday April 22.  The Moon is at perigee, when it is closest to the Earth, on Wednesday April 23.

Evening sky on Saturday April 19 looking north-west as seen from Adelaide at 21:00 pm ACST in South Australia. Jupiter is above the north-western horizon. The inset shows Jupiter's Moons at this time. Io is starting to cross Jupiter's disk. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).

Jupiter is in the constellation Gemini and is the brightest object in the evening sky. Jupiter was at opposition on the 6th of January, when it was brightest and closest to Earth, but will remain bright and easily observable in telescopes for in the early evening for the rest of this month.

Jupiter is highest around 17:30 pm local  time. It is high enough to begin observing telescopically when twilight ends. Jupiter sets around 10:00, so there is only a few hours for good telescopic observation now.

In the early evening it is above the north-western horizon between the bright stars Castor and Pollux, the twins of Gemini, and the bright red star Betelgeuse. Jupiter is quite easy to see as the brightest object in the entire sky, in the evening the sight of bright Jupiter sinking to the west, and bright Mars (still not as bright as Jupiter though) rising in the east is quite beautiful.

Jupiter's Moons are readily visible in binoculars.On the 19th Io transits Jupiter. around 21:00.

Mars rises around 17:10 pm local time, and is now easily seen in the evening, rising as Jupiter is setting. It is highest in the sky around 23:30. Mars was at opposition, when it is biggest and brightest, on the 9th, and is readily distinguishable as the bright red/orange object above the evening horizon. Mars is in the constellation of Virgo near the bright star Spica (see below). Mars is well worthwhile looking at in a telescope now, although you will need a decent one to see any detail.

Saturn is rising higher in the evening sky. Saturn is high enough around midnight for decent telescopic observation (see below).  Saturn is in Libra near the head of the constellation of the Scorpion. Saturn forms a triangle with the two brightest stars of Libra, its apex pointing towards the head of the Scorpion. The Moon is close to Saturn on the 17th.

Morning sky on  Thursday April 17 looking east as seen from Brisbane at 3:58 am AEST in OLD.  Venus is above the horizon and has just finished occulting the brigtht star Lambda Aquarii.. The inset shows the telescopic view of Venus at this time.  (click to embiggen).

The morning sky is quite impressive at the moment, with Mars, Saturn,  Venus and Mercury strung out across the sky.

Venus is in the morning sky, above the eastern horizon.  The brightest object in the morning sky, it is now easy to see and although it is past maximum brightness, it will dominate the morning sky for some months to come.  Venus was at its furthest distance from the Sun on the 23rd of March, and now will begin to slowly sink towards the horizon. Venus  is now a clear half-Moon shape.

On the morning of the 17th Eastern Australia sees a rare event, the occultation of a bright star by Venus. Venus covers the start Lambda Aquarii around 3:58 AEST, and uncovers it from the dark side at around 4:04 AEST. Brisbane has the best view, with Venus being higher than all other locations when it occults the star. For more details, charts and timings see my Venus occultation page.

Mercury disappears into the twilight.

Evening sky on Thursday April 17 looking east as seen from Adelaide at 21:00 pm ACST in South Australia. Mars is close to the bright star Spica. Saturn forms a triangle with the two brightest stars of Libra and is close to the Moon. The insets show the telescopic views of Saturn and Mars at this time (although you will need a good telescope to see Mars in this detail).

The asteroids Vesta and Ceres are just below Mars, and easily visible in binoculars. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).

Two bright asteroids are now visible in binoculars in the evening sky. 1 Ceres and 4 Vesta. Vesta  is now bright enough to be just visible to the unaided eye in dark sky locations.Unfortunately the waxing Moon means that it will not be visible to the unaided eye this week. While Vesta is easily seen in binoculars, you will need to watch the same patch of sky in binoculars for a couple of nights to identify it by its movement. Ceres never gets brighter than magnitude 7, but is easily in the range of 10x50 binoculars after the first few days when the light of the nearly full Moon interferes. See here for a printable black and white map suitable for seeing seeing Vesta and Ceres.

There are lots of interesting things in the sky to view with a telescope. Especially with Jupiter, Mars and Venus so prominent in the sky, and Saturn coming into view.  If you don't have a telescope, now is a good time to visit one of your local astronomical societies open nights or the local planetariums.

Printable PDF maps of the Eastern sky at 10 pm AEDST, Western sky at 10 pm AEST. For further details and more information on what's up in the sky, see Southern Skywatch.


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