Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report: April 26 – May 2

Stock image, St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH — The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is available online. Send questions and comments to [email protected].

I always emphasize the planets because they’re what changes the quickest in the sky, and for the next two weeks all five naked-eye planets are visible at one time or another.

Venus has been behind the sun since late last year, but it’s starting to peek out to the left, or east, of the sun, and it’ll be visible in the evening sky the rest of the year. This week it’s still nearly in line with the sun and it sets long before the sky is dark, but it’s so bright that you should spot it if you have a very low west-northwest horizon. As always, binoculars are a great help.

On Saturday it’s only 10 degrees from the sun and it sets 45 minutes after the sun, so look almost immediately after sunset. Each day Venus is a little farther from the sun and sets a bit later, and if you don’t see it this week you will soon – certainly by the end of May. On what date will you first see it?

Because Venus is on the far side of the sun, telescopically it’s tiny and at full phase; late this year it’ll be closer and then it’ll be a large crescent. Mercury is near Venus, and it also is on the far side of the sun and emerging from the sun’s glare. On Monday, Mercury is 2 degrees to the upper right of Venus; you’ll need binoculars. On the following nights it’s progressively farther above Venus and easier to see. Watch it move substantially night by night.

Mars is halfway up the western sky at sunset, and it sets around midnight. Mars is in the feet of the Gemini twins and to the upper right of Orion. It’s only as bright as the brighter stars.

Jupiter and Saturn are in the southeast, and the best time to see them is an hour or so before sunrise when they’ve risen high enough to clear local landmarks. Jupiter is by far the brightest thing in the sky, except the moon, and Saturn is 15 degrees to the upper right of Jupiter and only 1/15 as bright. Last year Jupiter passed Saturn and the two planets were especially close together, but Jupiter orbits the sun faster and is pulling away from Saturn, slowly leaving it behind, and they won’t be this close again until 2040.

Written by JOHN MOSLEY. John Mosley was program supervisor of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes”. He and his wife live in St. George where he continues to stargaze from his retirement home while serving on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.

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