Check out the very latest of what the heavens have to offer in the coming days.
Two outer planets shine in the southwestern sky an hour before sunrise today. Mars is nearing its closest approach to Earth this year, on April 14, shortly after its April 7 opposition. The red planet is in Virgo near the first magnitude star Spica. To its east, in Libra, the beautiful ringed planet Saturn is a creamy yellow, just a few degrees west of the bright red supergiant star Antares in the constellation Scorpius. Antares is Latin, meaning “Rival of Mars” (Roman god Ares) – so named due to their similarity in color.
A 6.29-day-old waxing gibbous Moon graces the sky just between Gemini and Orion tonight. Just above it shines Jupiter. This pairing will be quite striking, and the Moon will swing close to Jupiter on April 6 and 7 as well.
If you use your binoculars or telescope tonight, look at the Moon. Two easy features with lots of detail are visible along the terminator, the line between shadow and light on the Moon’s surface. The big lunar sea Mare Serenitatis (The Sea of Serenity) and the large crater Aristoteles are prime targets.
Tonight in the constellation Gemini, Jupiter is 5.4° north of a 7.2-day-old Moon.
At 00:31 PDT this morning the Moon is at First Quarter phase. Note the change in position from last night; the Moon moves 13.2 degrees eastward across the sky each day.
Mars is at opposition today. The Earth is directly between the Sun and Mars. This is a great time to be observing the Red Planet, as it nears its closest approach to us until 2018.
Find Mars in Virgo tonight.
An hour before sunrise this morning, note how far brilliant Venus has moved through the constellations since we last looked at it over a week ago. Venus was in Capricornus, just above the “bikini,” and now it is in mid Aquarius. These are Zodiacal constellations, as is Pisces, whose western edge is just rising above the horizon before dawn.
Tonight a 10.8-day-old waxing gibbous Moon sits 5.2° south of Leo’s brightest star, Regulus. Mars is currently the “star” of the planetary show – and is 7.6° north of Spica in Virgo.
An hour before sunrise in the southwest, five brilliant objects will be just over the horizon. Mars shines red and low to the west in Virgo near the white star Spica, with the red star Arcturus above it. Creamy yellow Saturn is Libra, with red Antares further east in Scorpius, mimicking Mars’ color.
Neptune and Venus are in conjunction today. You will certainly see Venus along the eastern horizon in Aquarius an hour before sunrise. Bluish Neptune will be quite a trick to see in the same telescope or binocular field, however, due to Venus’ brilliance.