Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report: April 5-11

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 begin with the moon and planets because they’re what changes the fastest in the sky. That’s true for the moon this week, which passes near Saturn and then Jupiter on the mornings of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. You’ll need to be up early to see them – a half-hour or so before sunrise is about right – and you’ll need a low southeastern horizon. Jupiter is brighter than any star but it’s only about 15 degrees high, while Saturn is 1/13 as bright and 12 degrees to the right of Jupiter.

On Monday morning, the thin crescent moon is to the right of Saturn. On Tuesday morning, the thinner crescent moon is immediately below Saturn, and on Wednesday morning it will be 5 degrees directly below Jupiter in a nice pairing.

Daylight saving time makes the sun rise an hour later, just as it makes the sun set an hour later (its purpose). In April, you don’t have to rise at an awful hour to see the morning planets and then the sunrise.

Jupiter and Saturn rise 4 minutes earlier each morning and are very slightly higher at the same time each morning. Mars remains the sole planet in the evening sky, and you’ll find it halfway up the western sky as the sky grows dark.

Mars was brighter than any star when we were closest to it last October, but that was then – now, it’s distant and no longer dominates the sky. Look for it above the orange star Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull and to the upper right of Orion the Hunter. The Hyades and Pleiades star clusters are below Mars; recall that Mars was between them precisely one month ago.

The Big Dipper has risen in the northeast as darkness falls. The Big Dipper is made up of seven stars, and the middle five are moving together through space on parallel paths. These five stars were born together about 300 million years ago and are traveling together in the same direction and at the same speed as they orbit the Milky Way. They’re about 80 light-years away. The two end stars of the Big Dipper happen to appear to be nearby but actually are more distant, and other stars that are not as bright are also part of the group. Google “Ursa Major Moving Group” for more information.

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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