The clouds of the past few days have moved out, so we have a chance to see the planets Venus, Mercury and Jupiter low in the northwest sky Monday night (if clouds from the next system don’t start to filter in). No telescope needed!
See Sky and Telescope’s web page for good maps of the sky and where to look.
These three planets were closest together in our skies last night, and some saw them between the clouds.
They will be lined up diffrently tonight, as seen via the above link and this map from Carte du Ciel…
Lots of evening sky photos – Jupiter, Venus, Mercury – Orion and star clusters – Mars – and stars around them
Look for Mercury – a tiny dot down to the right of the tree. The two bright dots above are Venus (brightest) and Jupiter (highest and not as bright as Venus).
Canon XS 20 seconds, F/20, 29mm, ISO 200.
If you turn around, Mars is rising in the east. It’s a red dot, brighter than the other stars around it from the constellation Leo the Lion. Leo looks like he’s jumping up into the sky (sorry I left off some of his head at the top of the frame).
As a bonus, here’s a photo of Orion (on the left) and the Pleiades (looking like a little dipper) to the upper right and the V-shaped Hyades cluster in between.
Click to enlarge and look for the little out-of-focus star in the stars below the bright three belt stars of Orion! That’s the Orion Nebula.
(Canon XS 20 seconds, F/4, ISO-400, 18mm.)
Also, I used the custom white balance feature on the Canon XS, which makes makes the sky look more normal, without the reddish glow often seen on long exposures in light-polluted skies.
Now go out and see it all for yourself – get where you can see the sky and block out bright lights!
Evening’s Bright Dot is Jupiter, Which Leads Us to Mercury
The Moon Runs Over a Star
March Comes in Like a Lion – Leo Rises
The Space Station and Solar Sail Make Appearances
Where are Saturn, Venus and Mars?
Don’t Forget Daylight-time Starts March 13th
Which Planet is Closest to Us?
Watch that bright dot in the western sky right after the sky gets dark in the evening. That’s the planet Jupiter. It will get lower in the sky every night, but as it gets down, it will pass the planet Mercury from the 13th through the 16th. If you have never seen Mercury in the sky, this is a great opportunity to see it. Mercury will be dimmer than Jupiter, but easy to see without optical aid with Jupiter nearby pointing the way.
Look out for the Moon this month as it cruises though our skies. On the 1st and the 31st, it lines up with Venus in the morning sky just before sunrise. It shares the evening twilight with Jupiter on the 6th and 7th. And the first quarter moon, when the moon looks half-full, is stuck high in the horns of Taurus the bull on the 12th. If you want to take up a challenge with your binoculars or telescope, the sight of a star instantly winking out when the dark limb of the Moon passes in front of it is exciting and educational (showing the lack of a substantial atmosphere on the Moon). The Moon covers μ Geminorum, a star normally easily seen without optical aid (magnitude 2.9) at the foot of one of the Gemini twins, on the evening of the 13th about 7:00pm in the New York City area. The moon’s glare may make it hard to find the star, so find the moon high up in bright twilight sky in advance of 7pm and look to the left of the moon with your optical aid to see the star. Then wait and watch for the moon to run it over.
Does March come in like a lion? Is our skies, it does, as Leo the lion rises into our evening skies from the eastern horizon. The bright winter constellations we have been enjoying seem to move quickly westward, as if in fear of our not-cowardly lion of the east.
Saturn is an object for late evening object through early morning. At 800 million miles away, it is tiny, but in a telescope, unmistakably Saturn with its ring. In your telescope, you’ll also see a nearby star. Saturn’s largest moon, Titan is fainter, but visible in telescopes larger than 3 inches wide.
Venus is still out there in the pre-dawn sky, only about one fist-width or so above the horizon.
Mars is still hiding in the glare of the Sun, but it is far enough from solar conjunction that scientists are listening again for signals from the Spirit rover, which hasn’t been heard from since the beginning of its Martian winter last March. The Opportunity rover is trundling along toward the large crater called Endeavour. Opportunity has been on Mars for 2511 Martian days and has 16½ miles on its odometer.
The International Space Station has bright evening-time overflights of our area now through the 13th and in the mornings starting on the 24th. The Nano-sail D solar sailing satellite has unfurled and NASA is having a contest to encourage photos of it as it travels across our skies like a moderately bright star. The best times for viewing Nano-sail D are in the evening through the 6th, and in the morning after that. Check spaceweather.com or heavens-above.com as the viewing times may change as the sail’s orbit is modified by solar wind pressure and bumps from the few atoms that make up our atmosphere at that altitude.
Remember that daylight time starts on March 13th, making the time of sunrise and sunset 6:59am and 7:07pm, respectively. Note that it’s not exactly a 12-hour period of daylight; one reason is due to the refraction of sunlight by Earth’s atmosphere from below the horizon lengthening daylight by a few minutes.
Which planet is closest to Earth most often? The surprising answer is Mercury. This year, for example, Mercury is the closest planet to Earth from March 14th through December 27th, when Mars becomes the closest planet to Earth. The distance from Earth to Venus is more than the distance from Earth to Mercury until January 7th, 2012, as Venus spends most of 2011 moving away from Earth in its slightly faster, inner orbit.
Show your support for your local planets !
Not much darkness this time of year, but with Venus, Mars and Saturn lining up for you in the evening twilight, how can you not go out and see them!
After sunset face yourself toward where the bright twilight is leftover from the sunset earlier in the evening. The planets are easiest to see about 9 to 10pm, after the sky gets a bit less bright and before the planets disappear over the horizon. It helps to not have hills and trees in the western sky, as well.
Details on the planet lineup
Binoculars make viewing the planetary lineups more striking, but are not necessary! First start with dazzling Venus. Once the sun sets, it’s the brightest thing out there, unless the Moon is nearby or a bright aircraft comes along. So pick out Venus and then move to its upper left. The next bright dot is much fainter, but gets easier to see as the sky gets dark. For the first part of the month, that’s the first magnitude star Regulus. Venus pushes past Regulus on the 8th and 9th (the pair are a pretty sight even by themselves). Then, ruddy Mars is next, then Saturn. By the end of the month, the spacing between the planets tightens up while the grouping moves lower in the western sky. You may have to wait for the sky to darken a bit, but the close encounters are worth seeing and showing off to friends.
Waiting on Jupiter
The King of the planets is still sleeping late, and you have to stay up to midnight or get up super-early in the morning to see him. I hear Jupiter is so bright, you can’t miss it. I cheated and found Jupiter at 10:30am in the daytime (see bkellysky.wordpress.com for a photo). The king will reign supreme in the evening sky starting in September.
Mercury Joins the Party
Anytime Mercury gets up from the horizon, it’s a good time to find it. Look low to the right of Venus from mid-July through early August. If you find Mercury, then it’s easy to see all five classical planets in one night. Move up to Venus, Mars and Saturn (especially easy when they get close together – closest on August 8th!). Then stay up for Jupiter to rise and you’ve done all the five planets that are easily visible to the unaided eye.
The Moon Swings By the Planets:
By Venus on the 14th – zoom in with your point and shoot for a nice photo! Near Mars on the 15th, Saturn is on the right on the 16th. Jupiter is near the moon after it rises after 11pm on the 30th.
Sunset Block Party in Manhattan on July 8th
See http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/resources/starstruck/manhattanhenge/ for details on the setting sun shining down the cross streets of Manhattan on July 8th.
See the International Space Station
Looking like a bright dot of light, the ISS soars over us on many evenings between now and July 14th. In late June the ISS is in sunlight almost all the time, so it’s visible about every 90 minutes all night. See nasa.gov or heavens-above.com or spaceweather.com for times for your location.
Two flights of the Space Transportation System remain!
STS-133 was planned for September, but may be moved to launch on October 28th or 29th. STS-134 may be moved to February 2011. There is a booster rocket set for another flight if NASA can get the funds for one additional flight. The STS has been the major source of water and supplies for the ISS.
Chcck out http://www.westchesterastronomers.org/ for the July newsletter and come to the July 10th star show under the stars!
 Of course, less patient people may not believe you. See my encounter with an inquiring mind at the June 16 entry on the Brightness of Venus folder at the unmannedspaceflight.com blog:
Canon Rebel XS on tripod 1 second at F5.7, ISO 1600. Venus is on the left and fainter Mercury is on the right. High clouds obscured Mercury and this was the photo where Mercury was the brightest. The streak below Mercury is the lights from an aircraft.
From Dobbs Ferry park on the Hudson River, north of New York City.
My wife, Carol, says I make this stuff up about what you can see in the sky. Really, I don’t write fiction that well (or I could quit my day job-not that I want to!). But last night, after I pointed out Venus, shimmering low in the western sky, she followed my directions and spotted Mercury, a bit to the lower right of Venus. Mercury was hard to pick out about 7:35, but was easy to see by 8pm. Carol was impressed, so now you have no excuse – any one of the next few evenings, you can add Mercury to the list of things you have seen for yourself in your lifetime. After you spot Mercury, take a minute and see how different they look. Yes, Venus is brighter, but that’s not all. Mercury is a different, dustier shade of white. Venus is covered with reflective clouds, it’s larger and closer to us, so it is a silvery white. Mercury is a rocky planet that would look gray and brownish if you got close enough. See what you can pick up – just with your two unaided eyes!
April is going to be a good month for all kinds of observers. Observers from southern California to Montana may see a bright star wink out for up to a few seconds as a tiny, too-faint-to-see asteroid passes in front of it. The star is one that is easy to see without optical aid. That’ll happen about 3:30 in the morning on April 6th. Check Sky and Telescope’s web site for details if you are out west that morning.
Mars, slightly reddish and high up in the evening sky, is getting too small to see much detail even in telescopes. But follow Mars in your binoculars this month as it passes by the Beehive cluster of stars. It should be a pretty sight and your binoculars will give the best view anyone can get of this scene. The ‘bees’ may get washed out and harder to find when the moon comes by on the 21st. Later this month, Venus will be hanging with her sisters, the Pleiades. The moon visits them about mid-month. The Earthshine on the crescent moon is something that I never tire of seeing. These are all great sights in binoculars.
The best telescopic sight this month is Saturn. Its rings are narrow, but easy in any telescope. Use higher magnification to bring out the rings. Most nights, Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is a faint dot nearby.
The International Space Station is visible as it flies over our area during the morning twilight from April 5th through April 28th. Then the ISS is an evening twilight event from April 28th to May 18th. Check heavens-above.com for updated times and dates. The next launch of the Space Transportation System is planned for Monday morning, April 5th. The Shuttle Discovery will be bringing thousands of pounds of scientific experiment racks and supplies to the Station. Today, three new crew members are being delivered via the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, now that the Shuttle is being retired; this is the only way to bring people to the ISS for now.