Astro Pop: Oh, how beautiful! Venus, Jupiter and the Skinny Moon converge at dawn – Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH – I hope your skies are better than mine in the last Lyrid meteor shower on April 21-22. Thin clouds were scattered all over, but there were enough holes to spot two remarkable meteors between 10:30 and midnight of the 21st. It made my night perfectly. Our next shower, the Eta Aquarids, reaches its climax just before dawn on May 4-5 without interference from the moon. I will share more details on this topic in an upcoming post.

Celestially speaking, things have been heating up in the final weeks long before sunrise. Earlier, I shared about seeing four bright planets at dawn. They’re still there, all neat and pretty straight about 35 degrees long. Jupiter is closest to the horizon and closest to the sun, with Saturn highest and farthest. Full disclosure, there really five planets. Neptune recently joined the fold, but it is faint and low, making it difficult if not impossible for most observers to see at the moment.

5 planets!

Although it is unlikely to be seen due to the weakness and low altitude, know that there is a fifth planet in the lineup – Neptune. It will appear less than 1/2 degree due to the east (left) of Venus to American observers. But to sky watchers in eastern Australia and Japan, the planets will really get close, just 0.004 degrees at about 2:09 p.m. CST. Even in a telescope they almost touch.

Contribute / Stellarium

You may have noticed that Venus and Jupiter are getting very close to each other since Jupiter first appeared about two weeks ago. On Wednesday, April 27, the two will be shoulder to shoulder about 3 degrees, or six diameters, than the full moon. On the same morning, the silver moon falls and turns the duo into a zinger eye for a right-triangle-shaped trio.

From mid-northern latitudes, the Moon will appear about 4 degrees below Jupiter and rise about 20 minutes later than the two planets. If you’ve never seen a crescent moon rise before—and, let’s be honest, few of us have—start early and find a spot that has a great view of the east and southeast as far into the horizon as possible.

Click here to find out when the moon will rise for your location, then give enough time to get to your own place and rest. Don’t forget the binoculars for the Moon (to see the fearsome illuminated part of the Earth) and to track Mars and Saturn in dim twilights.

distorted crescent

This close-up shows the crescent moon’s crushed shape due to refraction, the same phenomenon that “flattens” sunrises and sunsets. Differences in the temperature of the different layers of air through which the moon rises leads to restlessness.

Contribute / Bob King

When the crescent moon rises, one or both ends appear first (depending on the direction of the moon) and look like orange “stars”. This surprised me when I first saw it. You will also notice that like a full moon, the crescent will appear shattered due to its refraction (bending of light) near the horizon. Watch out for these oddities and other atmospheric oddities when you’re outside.

Mars and the polar cap

Mars is currently very far from Earth and appears small in a telescope. But if the air is stable and you use a 4-inch or larger telescope with a magnification of about 200 times, look for the planet’s prominent south polar cap, as shown in this image taken on April 23, 2022.

Contribute / Chris Jo

Where you live affects the visibility of the planets. While anyone across the United States and the southern half of Canada will see the full lineup, the southernmost you go – say, New Orleans versus Fargo – descend steeply from the horizon. And the steeper the tilt, the higher it was in a dark sky, making it easier to see.

two opinions

From Duluth, Minnesota in the northern United States, the planets and the moon track in the sky, the twilights begin earlier and the sun rises sooner compared to the south in New Orleans. There the entire crew is shown tilted at a higher angle into a darkened sky.

Contribute / Stellarium

Twilight length and sunrise time also factor into ease of viewing, especially for dimmer planets such as Mars and Saturn. As summer approaches, both the onset of morning twilight and sunrise come earlier for observers in the northern United States like myself than for our comrades in the southern states.

All of these factors conspire to make the morning sky brighter sooner and keep the planets at somewhat lower altitudes in Duluth than in New Orleans. but not very Much. I saw all four an hour before sunrise over a week ago. Since then, Jupiter has climbed higher and is easier to spot, and I’m eagerly anticipating Wednesday’s meeting as much as you are.

Jupiter and its moons

If you have a small telescope handy, try pointing it at Jupiter on Wednesday morning (April 27). The four satellites will be visible as seen in this simulation at 5:30 AM CST.

Contribute / Stellarium

Since Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon are all shining targets, consider taking a picture of the trio with your mobile phone. Even if carried by hand, you should be able to capture a beautiful scene illuminated by the early light.

Jupiter and Venus will continue to converge in the coming days. On the last morning of April, we will witness an even more exciting event – their very close pairing. More on that later in an upcoming post.

“Astro” Bob King is a freelance writer for the Duluth News Tribune.