April 2022

• April 5th, 2022

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         Quite the exciting month for planets…if you like getting up early.  4 of the 5 visible planets are hanging out together in the mornings, with Mercury having its best apparition for the year in the evenings, along with two conjunctions of morning planets and some possible meteors.

         Welcome to Observing With Webb, where a high school astronomy teacher tells you what you’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what you should check out later this month…at night. 

 

Naked-eye PLANETS

Sunset – Mercury (last week or two of April)

  • Mercury (WNW) – It sounds like this apparition of Mercury will be the best one of the year. The last two weeks of April it SHOULD be visible, but the 30th will be the best day, given Mercury will be higher in the sky than ever, and doesn’t set until 9:45pm.  Just get out after sunset, look WNW, and the first point of light you’ll see is Mercury.  BONUS: On the 30th, Mercury will be right next to the Pleiades.  Get out some binoculars or a low-power scope to see both of them in the same view.

Throughout the night – None

Morning – Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn (SE)

Let’s use Venus as our guidepost for the month, as it is the most visible object in the morning sky.

  • Venus (SE) – Keep an eye out after 5am, looking SE, for the highlight of the spring and summer mornings this year, Venus. About 20˚ above the horizon and almost impossible to miss, the brightest object in the morning sky will blaze as a “morning star”.
  • Mars (SE) – Mars starts February about 5˚ to the right of Venus, with Saturn nearby as well. Mars is considerably dimmer than Venus, so you’ll have to get out there before dawn starts, when it’s still dark, and look right around Venus for it.  Throughout April, Venus moves away from Mars to be about 15˚ to the right by the 30th.
  • Saturn (SE) – Saturn begins the month in between Mars and Venus, but a little lower. By the 5th, Saturn passes Mars in its rightward march away from the cluster of planets, and is less than one degree away from Mars. Onward through the month, Saturn continues to move rightward, ending April about 17˚ degrees to the right of Mars.
  • Jupiter (SE) ­– Jupiter is coming into its own as a morning planet this month. On April 1st, it rises after 6am, so it will be low and hard to see in twilight, and far away (25˚ to the left) from the cluster of Venus, Saturn, and Mars.  Each day from there though, it rises earlier and is higher, pretty easily visible by mid-month, when Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn are lined up and about equally spaced. Venus then closes in on Jupiter, and on April 30th, the pair are less than 1˚ apart, rise around 5am, and are easily visible.

 

EVENTS

New Moon – 1st (darkest skies)

Evening Crescents (look West after Sunset)

First Quarter Moon – 9th (Visible until midnight)

Evening Gibbous (Mostly lit, after Sunset)

Full Moon – 16th (Visible all night)

Waning Gibbous (Mostly lit, rises later at night)

Last Quarter Moon – 23rd (Visible from midnight into the morning)

Morning Crescents (look East in the AM)

 

5th CONJUNCTION – MARS, SATURN The first of a couple conjunctions this month, go out early in the morning after about 5am and find Venus (the brightest one). About 7˚ to the right of Venus will be both Mars and Saturn less than half a degree apart.  Them being so close should allow some good telescope opportunities, astrophotos, and a chance to see how differently colored they are, Mars being red, Saturn typically described as light caramel.

22nd LYRID METEOR SHOWER – At only 10-20 meteors per hour, it is a minor shower, and we have a Moon washing out the fainter ones starting at 2:30am.  You’ll still be able to see SOME meteors at night, but don’t get too excited.  The shower is greatest on the 22nd, but you might see some on the 21st and 23rd as well.  Just remember each meteor is piece of debris left over from a comet, and we’re crashing into it at over 100,000 miles per hour, which crushes the atmosphere it hits, heating it up and causing the bright flash.

Some advice for watching:

Find a dark location and lie down in a reclining chair or something that insulates you from the ground.

Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear

Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something. 

If you’re feeling extra nerdy, do a scientific meteor count (S&T and IMO)

23rd - 27thClose Encounter – Moon, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Saturn – The Moon joins the sunrise planet party this week!  To set the scene, each morning get out between 4:30am and 5am, and you’ll be able to see Venus, with Jupiter to the left 6˚, Mars to the right 13˚, and Saturn about 13˚ further to the right.  From left to right, that’s Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Saturn.  What happens over the next week or so is the Moon travels through the lineup.  On the 23rd, the Moon is 22˚ to the right of Saturn, and then move to only about 10˚ to the right on the 24th.  On the 25th, the Moon moves between and below Mars and Saturn, making a nice triangle.  Then it switches dance partners up on the 26th, moving between and below Venus and Mars.  Finally, on the 27th the Moon is closest to some planets for this trip, about 5˚ below both Venus and Jupiter. 

30thCONJUNCTION – Jupiter, Venus – Only ½˚ apart!  Get out there by 5am at the latest (they rise at 4:30am) and look ESE with a decently low horizon and find the VERY bright Venus with also bright Jupiter less than a pinky-width to the left. Get out that telescope and see both of them in the same view!

30thClose Encounter – Mercury, Pleiades – Get out just after sunset, with a nice view of the NWN horizon.  The first light in the sky will be Mercury, in its crescent phase, with the Pleiades about 1˚ to the right.  Get your binoculars and scopes out!

30thPartial Solar Eclipse (that you probably won’t see) – Only visible in western South America and the ocean around there.  Check social media for pictures and live streams!

 

CONSTELLATIONS

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.

After Dinner:

Leo, Orion & his winter companions – Leo will be high in the South, almost straight above you. It has a backward question mark with a right triangle to the left of the question mark. Also, take a moment to get your last glimpse Orion, Taurus, the Pleiades, Gemini, Auriga, and Canis Major off in the West.

Before Bed:

Big Dipper, Bootes – If you look above Leo, behind you and high in the sky, you should find the Big Dipper: seven very bright stars that form a spoon shape. Now if you take the handle of the Dipper, follow its curve to the next bright star you see, about 30˚ away, which is Arcturus. “Follow the arc to Arcturus.” That’s the brightest star in Bootes, which looks like a kite. Take that same curve, and follow it about another 20˚ to “speed on to Spica”, the brightest star in Virgo, one of my favorite constellations, since it reminds me of the Dickinson Mermaid.

Before Work:

Lyra, Hercules, Hercules Cluster – Look pretty much straight above you, and find the brightest star up there. You’ll notice a parallelogram attached to it. This is the brightest star Vega, part of the constellation Lyra, the harp. Next to that is a keystone shaped constellation called Hercules. On the right side of the keystone is a small cluster of stars known at the Hercules Cluster, which is a collection of hundreds of stars on the outskirts of our galaxy. Given how high it is in the sky right now, you might catch its faint fuzziness with your naked eye, but a set of binoculars or a small telescope will really help you see it.


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Dec 2021 + Jan 2022

• December 2nd, 2021

Why get out there in the cold of December and January?  It’s a time of transitions and wonder.  We’ve got two meteor showers, plenty of lunar encounters, potentially a comet, planets visible but changing, and very long nights.

         Welcome to Observing With Webb, where a high school astronomy teacher tells you what you’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what you should check out later this month…at night. 

 

Naked-eye PLANETS...

Sunset – Venus, Saturn, Jupiter (and a week of weak Mercury in January)

  • Venus (SW) – For the LAST month, Venus stays about 10˚ above the horizon at sunset, setting around 7:30pm, almost all December, but dives toward the horizon around Christmas time. At this point it will be too close to the Sun to see until it pops up in the SE in the mornings of mid-January. 
  • Saturn, Jupiter (SW) – Throughout December, Saturn and Jupiter will appear in the Southwest right as it gets dark, but each night they will get lower in the sky and set earlier and earlier. Jupiter will be the bright point of light on the left, with Saturn about 15˚ to the right.  You can anticipate Saturn getting lost in dusk by the first week of January, Jupiter by the end.

Throughout the night – None

Morning – Mars?, then Venus in January

  • Mars (SE) – Mars starts December VERY low on the morning SE horizon. It’ll be interesting to see what day we will finally be able to see it clearly in the dawn twilight.  In fact, it doesn’t even progress much higher throughout January, staying about 10-15˚ above the horizon.  Mars will be a challenge, but should get easier in the new year.
  • Venus (SE) – Keep an eye out after 6:30am midway through January, looking SE. The super-bright object low on the horizon will be Venus.  It will keep getting a little higher and rising earlier each day.  This time of Venus being a “morning star” will last until September.

 

EVENTS...

December

Morning Crescents (look East in the AM)

New Moon – 4th (darkest skies)

Evening Crescents (look West after Sunset)

First Quarter Moon – 10th (Visible until midnight)

Evening Gibbous (Mostly lit, after Sunset)

Full Moon – 18th (Visible all night)

Waning Gibbous (Mostly lit, rises later at night)

Last Quarter Moon – 26th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

Morning Crescents (look East in the AM)

 

January

New Moon – 2nd (darkest skies)

Evening Crescents (look West after Sunset)

First Quarter Moon – 9th (Visible until midnight)

Evening Gibbous (Mostly lit, after Sunset)

Full Moon – 17th (Visible all night)

Waning Gibbous (Mostly lit, rises later at night)

Last Quarter Moon – 25th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

Morning Crescents (look East in the AM)

 

December – Comet Leonard – There is much to say about an comet; it’s track, speed, brightness.  Many variables interfere with being able to say what you’re going to see, if you even see it at all.  At this time, keep an eye out and ears open on social media regarding this comet.  It passes closest to us on the 12th, and might just become naked-eye visible at some point this month, but there’s more to consider.  When will the Moon be up?  How close to the horizon will it be?  Will it get lost in dusk?

December 6th – 10thClose Encounter – Moon, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter – What a great 5 days of lunar encounters!  We know the planetary setup from the past couple months.  Venus is low in the SW, but SUPER bright and easy to find.  Hold your fist out in front of you with your pinky and pointer fingers extended, and move one width (15˚) up and to the left and you’ll find Saturn.  Go another 15˚ and you’ll see much brighter Jupiter.  But starting on the 6th, a very thin crescent Moon joins this party.  On the 6th, the Moon is just 4˚ below Venus.   Each night the Moon will move to the left 13˚, and get a bit thicker.  Hence, on the 7th, it will be 6˚ below Saturn.  On the 8th 8˚ below and to the right of Jupiter.  On the 9th, about the same distance away from Jupiter, but to the left.  Finally, on the 10th, the Moon starts migrating away from our bright planets, being about 15˚ away from Jupiter, making a nice evenly spaced line up of celestial objects.

December 13th – 14thGeminid Meteor Shower – This is a decent year for the strongest annual meteor shower known as the Geminids, especially if you don’t mind getting up early.  The waxing gibbous Moon will make evening observing less fruitful, given its light pollution, but it will set around 3am, which is also when the peak will occur.  So get out there in the morning and take advantage of the possible 150 meteors per hour!  But be well prepared…

  • When? The peak is the morning of December 14th, 2am local time.  Commit yourself to staying out at least 20 minutes.
  • Where do I go? Dark area, away from lights, comfortable chair, pool float, hammock.
  • Where do I look? The whole sky, but note Gemini is where the radiant is - where the meteors will appear to be coming from. Gemini will be in the East after sunset, South after midnight, West in the morning.
  • Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear
  • BUNDLE UP! Far more layers than you think.
  • Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources for 20 minutes or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something. 
  • If you’re feeling extra nerdy, do a scientific meteor count (S&T and IMO)

December 21stWinter Solstice - The longest night and shortest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. More info here: http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice.html

December 31stClose Encounter – Moon, Mars, Antares – After 5:30am, but before sunrise, find a great view of the SE horizon, and you’ll find a VERY thin crescent Moon, with ruddy red Mars just below it and to the left, and Antares (known as the “rival of Mars”) just below and to the right of the Moon.

January 1st – Mercury Appears – Mercury doesn’t make much of an appearance these two months, however, you might be able to catch it this evening.  Watch the sun set, find Venus (super bright in the SW), and just 8˚ to the left and little bit up from Venus will be the winged messenger Mercury.  Mercury will still be in that spot for a few days, but it’s hard to find once Venus disappears.

January 3rd – 6thClose Encounter – Moon, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter – Similar to December, a great string of lunar encounters!  The planetary setup has changed a bit, with bright Jupiter easiest to find in the SW.  Saturn is 20˚ (two fist-widths) down and to the right, with Mercury (if you can see it) about 7˚ below and to the right of Saturn.  Starting on the 3rd, a very thin crescent Moon joins this party.  On the 3rd, if you have binoculars, find the Moon just 5˚ below Mercury.   Each night the Moon will move to the left 13˚, and get a bit thicker.  Hence, on the 4th, it will be 4˚ to the left of Saturn.  On the 5th 6˚ below Jupiter.  Finally, on the 10th, the Moon starts migrating away from our bright planets, being about 10˚ away from Jupiter, making a nice, but oddly-spaced, line up of celestial objects.

January 3rd & 4thQuadrantid Meteor Shower – This shower’s peak lasts only around 4 hours, but there are still some meteors to be seen on either side of the peak, especially since the Moon is not lit up this time around.  Hence, getting out in the early mornings (3am) these two days is likely to modestly pay off.  Follow the same advice as the Geminids, except that the radiant is in a space in between the stick figure constellations of Ursa Major, Bootes, and Draco.  This space is a former constellation known as Quadrans Muralis.

January 29thClose Encounter – Moon, Venus, Mars – After 5:30am, but before sunrise, find a great view of the SE horizon, and you’ll find a VERY thin crescent Moon, with the very bright Venus just 13˚ to the left.  If you’re good, you’ll be able to spot ruddy red Mars in between the two, but closer to the Moon.  Bring binoculars.

 

CONSTELLATIONS...

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.

After Dinner:

Cassiopeia, Andromeda, & Perseus - Look pretty much straight up you’ll be able to see Andromeda curving off of one corner of Pegasus. If your skies are decently dark, you might catch the faint fuzz that is the Andromeda Galaxy.  Cassiopeia will be relatively easy to find as the “W” in the sky, whose right angle points right to Andromeda and her galaxy.  Perseus is the other cornucopia-shaped constellation, but opposite of Andromeda, with its curves emptying out toward the Pleiades

Before Bed:

Taurus & the Pleiades – Look almost straight up, but down toward the South a little bit and you’ll find the lovely cluster of stars known as the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, Subaru, or the mini-mini-dipper. You can easily see 5 or 6 of them with the unaided eye, and perhaps a 7th, depending on light pollution and your eyes.  To the left about 5˚ will be the V constellation of Taurus the bull, with bright red Aldebaran as its brightest, and one eye of the bull. Oh, and if you follow a line connecting these two to the left about 10˚, you’ll find Orion.

Before Work:

Leo – Look South, halfway up the sky, to find the backward question mark and right triangle that is Leo the Lion.

Don’t forget this podcast is found on my Podbean page, Stitcher, and iTunes.  There’s also a video version on my YouTube Channel and I can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @mrwebbpv. The Pequea Valley Planetarium and its events and updates are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as @pvplanetarium.

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