Our Skies: Week of April 8th, 2019

Morning skies continue to have Jupiter, Saturn, Venus and Mercury, from right to left before sunrise.

Evening skies have Mars cavorting with other reddish objects, Betelgeuse and Aldebaran. The banana moon joins the fun this week.

Maps are from MobileObservatory v.2.75. The scenes are for midweek (April 10) and best for places 40 degrees north latitude. The position of the objects in the sky will be different by the distance your location is from the central meridian of your time zone (e.g., 75 degrees west, 90 degrees west, etc.)

Not an ad, but an explanation as to why I use MobileObservatory for my charts. Well, they export nice screen shots. Now, there is a new version for updated Android devices. I love the version I have, which I hear will be supported. My Android devices are not likely to support updated versions of Android software, so I’ll be staying with my version. I like this planetarium because I can easily find things on the menus, which use words, not just pictograms used with programs others love like StarryNight and Stellarium. Just in case anyone wanted to know.

On to what you sky will look like this week. In the evening sky, our Moon will be lower earlier in the week and higher than depicted later in the week. And fuller as the week goes on.

Morning sky about 6am local daylight time for midweek (April 10th) looking to the right of where our Sun will rise.
Evening sky when it starts to get dark, about 1/2 hour after sunset. For midweek, April 10th.
Closer view of the action near Sagittarius with Pluto shown behind Saturn just for fun. Map is good all week and then some.
Closer view of the sky low in the east. The planets are really low to the horizon, unlike Mars and our Moon in the evening sky. I don’t think you can find Neptune without a good telescope, since the sky is bright by the time Venus and Neptune rise. Mercury doesn’t get much closer to Venus than this. Use binoculars to see Mercury in the twilight. For scale, Venus is only 8 degrees above the horizon.

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Weather: Mon Apr 8 2019

Just taking a look at the weather maps for today, and reviewing the National Weather Service forecast discussion for the upcoming week.

Forecast weather map for Monday, April 8th, 2019 from the NWS National Center for Environmental Prediction/ Weather Prediction Center. https://www.weather.gov/forecastmaps
Or, if you prefer, the Weather Channel’s classic weather map

There’s a lot of crazy fronts (red for warm front, blue for cold, dashed lines are troughs (areas of lower pressure without a temperature change on the other side) on these maps. The warm fronts in the northeastern United States will have a big effect on Monday’s high temperatures. As the front pushes northward and if the clouds thin out, the high temperature forecast may be way off (as noted by the NYC NWS office. High temperatures might touch 80 degrees inland if the sun gets to shine down on us.

The Weather Service has a slight chance of thunderstorms this afternoon, but they note there are some stable layers aloft and some stable air from the ocean that would limit thunderstorms to areas away from the coast, if they happen at all.

On Tuesday temperatures fall into the 50s and remain there, with rain late Tuesday.

Clouds linger Wednesday and Thursday, but there may be some clearer times for our morning planets (from right to left, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mercury) and our waxing moon in the evening sky, with Mars cavorting with the red giants Betelgeuse and Aldebaran.

Friday, we reenter the rain, chance of thunderstorm cycle as a slow-moving major storm in the midwest United States makes timing of later week weather events less certain.

We may get a coastal storm early next week.

Heads UP! for April 2019

The evening sky has the charms of the winter sky and the coming of spring sights.  Mars is the only ‘wanderer’ after sunset.  It has almost completed its long climb to the top of the ecliptic, standing high in the evening sky, even as its elongation from the Sun decreases by 10 degrees this month.  Mars’ steady light at magnitude +1.5 tries to compete with the brighter flickering red giants of Aldebaran and Betelgeuse at magnitudes +0.5 and +0.9, respectively.

In the morning, the Teapot is really cooking for the next several months.  Saturn stands off on the left side of Sagittarius and Jupiter is off to the right. Pop out with the telescope in the early morning and find a clear view out to the south to sight these planets.  Even in twilight, Jupiter can be a beautiful sight in any telescope, as the king of the planets can be overwhelmingly bright in a dark sky.  We’ll have to wait until summer to see these gas planets in the evening sky.

Saturn is getting sideways with us, at quadrature, just like Jupiter last month.  Now Saturn’s shadow on the rings peeks out from behind the pale globe, giving depth to the view in a telescope.  The jaunty tilt of Saturn’s rings is very noticeable, even if it does decrease a degree or two over the next few months.  Saturn serves as a laser-like pointer to really faint Pluto about three degrees to its left and the New Horizons spacecraft about the same distance to Saturn’s upper right.

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is visible in most telescopes, if you can divert yourself from gazing at the rings.  Iapetus is fainter, but this month its bright side faces us on the west side of Saturn around mid-month.  Star HD 182578 appears like an extra Saturnine moon starting around the 8th.  On the 13th, it’s near Iapetus.  Titan appears halfway between Saturn and Iapetus around the 22nd.

Hey, Jupiter!  How are those belts doing?  Find some clear mornings and sketch the dark belts on Jupiter.  Keeping a record of the dark jet streams on Jupiter is a good way to get started doing astronomical sketching. Compare your observations to the standard set of belts Jupiter typically wears.  

Start off the day after April Fools’ day with Venus standing only 5 degrees above the horizon at 6am Daylight Time, even though Venus has 35 degrees of elongation from our Sun.  The barely lit Moon is just below Venus, smiling as if she is had a joke of her own on the foolish first.

Mercury reverses everything in April, compared to our view in February/March.  Mercury will be in the morning sky, will have a elongation from the Sun 50 percent farther than last month, but it’ll only get half the separation from Sun in our skies.  The southern hemisphere gets the best view of Mercury anywhere in all of 2019.  Mercury closes to within a hands-width of Venus around mid-month, but no closer.

Asteroid 2 Pallas (more properly called a minor planet) keeps company near Arcturus at magnitude +8 this month, as it closes to 150 million miles from Earth.  Look for it to pass near Eta Bootis (magnitude +2.7) around the 11th.  1 Ceres qualifies as a dwarf planet, larger and rounder than Pallas. Ceres spends April as bright as Pallas, in between Ophiuchus and Scorpius.  At Ceres’ closest approach to Earth in late May it will be magnitude +7 and 163 million miles away. 

April’s Lyrid meteors peak on the 22nd and 23rd with up to 20 hard-to-see meteors an hour in a moonlit sky.    

In March, the Dragon spacecraft, launched from the Kennedy Space Center, visited the International Space Station.  The SpaceX product, with room for four and their luggage, was lofted without people ahead of a crewed flight in July.  A Soyuz delivered three astronauts to give the ISS six souls on board.  The Chinese station, Tinagong 2, no longer has taikonauts[i] on board.  Both the ISS and Tinagong are forecast to make evening passes over us in the first third of the month.  The Dragon’s ‘crew’ included a plush toy Earth, which has won the hearts of many with its permanently astonished face.  Plush Earths still on Mother Earth are sold out.  


[i] Term used in non-Chinese media for China’s space explorers – from Chinese taikong (space) and the Greek naut (sailor)

April First, 2019

Moon and Venus, while low in the sky, were very bright this morning.

Wider photo of the whole scene. Same lens as other photos, but at 55mm, 1/125 sec. f/7.1, ISO800.


Sometimes firefox or wordpress won’t show the photo full size. Hard to find Venus that way! Right click on the photo and click View Photo. When the photo opens up, click on it to enlarge. Venus will be easier to find.

Here’s a cropped version, in case this method above doesn’t work. . . .


Venus, the tiny dot to the left, and an airplane behind some trees.

Moon on the other side of the tree.

Both photos Canon XS 250mm lens on tripod. 1/200 sec. f/7.1 ISO 800.

Moon. One of the better images, cropped to get rid of all the open empty space. Enhanced in Photoshop Elements 15. 1/320 sec. f/7.1 250mm ISO800. Hints of craters seen easily in binoculars. Very windy, so the view is degraded in the turbulent air.



April Fools! Two Black Holes on Jupiter and Six Planets, all before 9am.

Let’s start with the view outside before sunrise on April 1st. Is there a bright planet peeking in your window in the morning? It may be Jupiter. Venus is brighter, but very low in the sky. All of this is happening just to the right of where our Sun rises in the morning. How many planets do we have in this chart of the southeastern sky?

At this 6am view, the sun is 45 minutes from rising, and the planets are in a line very low in the sky. That planet shining into your window is most likely to be Jupiter, far to the right of brighter Venus. On April 1st, our Moon is right next to Venus, but a thin crescent that may be hard to find as the sky brightens. As for the ‘other’ planets, they are harder to find. Saturn, between Venus and Jupiter, is harder to see, dimmer than either of its fellow planets, but still brighter than most of the stars. Pluto, the ‘used to be a planet’ (now a dwarf planet), is right behind Saturn in our sky, which I still think is a cool fact to know. Mercury and Neptune are paired even lower in the sky than Venus, and not likely to be found by us human observers. But, they’re out there. That’s Mercury, Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune, all in the same frame. Plus Pluto in the background.

Now, for Jupiter and the black holes. Two of Jupiter’s four brightest moons will be casting their shadows on Jupiter on April Fools’ Day at the same time, from about 8am to 9am EDT. Will we be able to see the shadows after the 6:39amEDT sunrise? It’ll be easier in the western United States, where the shadows will be seen starting at 5am Pacific Daylight Time, before local sunrise. If train your telescope on Jupiter before sunrise in the NYC area (which is about the time the first shadow shows up), Europa and Ganymede are off to the east of the planet. Io is just about to disappear into Jupiter’s shadow. Jupiter’s other bright moon, Callisto, is way off the east, as shown in these screenshots.

Jupiter and its moons, 6:30amEDT.
Jupiter and its moons, with the shadows of Europa (E) and Ganymede (G) as black ‘holes’ on Jupiter. Monday, April 1, 2019, 8:30am EDT, 5:30pm PDT.


Another Good Morning – Thurs Mar 28

In case you missed it – One more clear morning! The last quarter moon with the Apennines Mountains standing up in the sunlight as the sun has set on the plains around it.

Update:
Did I mention our Moon will be up (but low) in the southern sky until it sets at noon today?

Also, when you look at the last quarter moon – that’s the direction the earth is headed on our trip around our Sun. As I type this update, the Earth, and all of its passengers, is where the Moon was in space when I was looking at it 2 1/2 hours ago. (Fortunately, the moon has continued to move and is out of the way by the time we got there.) See the earthsky blog for more on this.

Last Quarter Moon – I love the mountains in the upper part of the photo extending into the ‘dark’ part of the moon. The tops of the mountains are still in sunlight, while the lower areas around them are in darkness. The rest of our Moon is looks pretty rugged, as well.

Canon XS on tripod ISO800 1/500 sec. f/7.1 with a 250mm zoom lens. Cropped from larger photo, brightened a bit and sharpened in Photo program.

The Apennines Mountains are part of the wall of the giant impact basin, Mare Imbrium, that dark, circular flatter-looking area to the left of the Mountains, which takes up much of the northwestern part of our Moon. Mare Imbrium was formed when an astroid hit the moon about 4 billion years ago. Lava welled up several billion years later to fill in the humongous crater. The mountains around its edge are the remains of the crater’s walls. Apollo 15 landed in these mountains, just about where the sun is setting today.

Venus and Jupiter were out, also. Venus is very bright, but very low. I could see Jupiter until sunrise this morning. I tried to catch our Moon and Jupiter on the iPhone, but Jupiter didn’t show up.

Venus is down in the weeds:

Venus is that tiny dot in the center of the photo, just above the wire and to the right of the tree branch. Canon XS on tripod 1/800 sec. f/7.1 ISO 800, 250mm zoom lens


A Good Morning in the Sky

One good thing about Daylight Time is keeping the ability to see the dawn sky at a sensible hour. This morning (Wed Mar 27), I was out at 6am Local Daylight Time to see the morning planet parade, photobombed by the barely-larger-than-a-last-quarter moon. If you skies are clear on Thursday, check this out. Our Moon will be to the left of bright Jupiter and to the upper right of dimmer Saturn. Venus is just above the horizon to their lower left. If you have a telescope, you could hop from Saturn (first, because it’ll be the hardest to find as the sky brightens) then Jupiter and its moons. You (well, maybe me) could spend all day looking at features on our Moon. If you have binoculars, Jupiter, its moons and our Moon will look fine.

Here’s our Moon, with Jupiter on the right edge of the photo. In some versions of this photo, I can barely make out Jupiter four brightest moons that I could see in my binoculars.

(Overexposed) moon with Jupiter on the right. Canon XS on tripod 1/15 sec. f/5.6 ISO800 with 250mm zoom lens.

Better exposure of our Moon:

Cropped from a better exposure of our Moon, with the same lens as above: 1/800 sec. f/5.6 ISO 800, 250mm zoom lens.

iPhone shot. Held up to 8-inch telescope’s eyepiece. Lots of sources of blur, but here it is. Lighting adjusted in Photoshop Elements 15. Blue is from sunlight scattering and just how the phone took the photo by a guy before breakfast.

I had put the Canon camera away before I got to this point. So, as our Sun was rising, an iPhone snap through the telescope with a 6mm eyepiece. It shows a wider field of view than I get with my glasses in the way, but the contrast and detail isn’t quite as good as real life.
iPhone snap through a 30mm (lower power) 2-inch eyepiece. This is the view we use at public events to show as much moon as possible and it stays in view longer.