Every week, SkyNews publishes a list of key events in the Canadian sky in This Week’s Sky. This series gives you all the latest news in Solar System movements, including where the planets are in our sky and Moon phases. From eclipses to meteor showers, This Week’s Sky keeps you updated on the best in upcoming astronomical highlights.
Tuesday, April 26 – Crescent Moon below Mars (pre-dawn)
Another shift of 12 degrees to the east will place the crescent Moon a palm’s width below (or 6 degrees to the celestial southeast of) Mars in the east-southeastern sky on Tuesday, April 26. Mars will be in the centre of a string of bright planets: Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn. The faint planet Neptune tucked between Jupiter and Venus will be unobservable.
Wednesday, April 27 – Old Moon below Venus and Jupiter (pre-dawn)
The Moon will complete its picturesque visitation with the pre-dawn planets on Wednesday morning, April 27, when its slim waning crescent Moon will shine several finger widths below (or four degrees to the celestial southeast of) Venus in the lower part of the east-southeastern sky. The somewhat fainter dot of Jupiter will be positioned a small distance to Venus’ left, allowing all three objects to share the view in binoculars (green circle). The distant planet Neptune will be there, too — just a half degree to Venus’ lower left — but it will be far too faint to see while that low, and in a brightening sky.
Thursday, April 28 – Mercury at peak evening visibility (after sunset)
On Thursday, April 28, the speedy planet Mercury will reach its greatest angle from the Sun, and maximum visibility, for its current evening appearance. Greatest eastern elongation of 21 degrees will occur on Thursday morning in the Americas, so the planet will be readily visible above the west-northwestern horizon on both Wednesday and Thursday after sunset. At the same time, Mercury will shine with a magnitude of 0.14 among the stars of northwestern Taurus. Watch for the bright Pleiades star cluster located just a thumb’s width to Mercury’s upper right (celestial north). In a telescope (inset) the planet will exhibit a nearly half-illuminated phase and an apparent disk diameter of 7.8 arcseconds. At mid-northern latitudes, the optimal viewing time for Mercury will begin around 8:15 p.m. in your local time zone.
Friday, April 29 – Mercury passes the Pleiades (after dusk)
On Friday, April 29, a day after reaching its widest angle east of the Sun, Mercury will pass less than a thumb’s width to the left (or 1.5 degrees to the celestial south) of the bright Pleiades star cluster, also known as Messier 45 and the Seven Sisters, in Taurus. The planet and the cluster will share the view in a backyard telescope at low magnification from Thursday to Saturday. Binoculars (green circle) will work well, too. With either approach, the cluster’s stars will not be easily visible until the sky darkens around 9 p.m. By then, you’ll be viewing them less clearly, through a greater thickness of Earth’s atmosphere.
Saturday, April 30 – Venus meets Jupiter (pre-dawn)
In the eastern sky before sunrise during late April, the rapid sunward swing of Venus will carry it past Jupiter. They’ll be close enough to share the view in binoculars (green circle) from April 24 to May 6. At closest approach on Saturday, April 30, and on the following morning, the two bright planets will appear together in the eyepiece of a backyard telescope (inset), where six times brighter Venus will exhibit a 67-per-cent illuminated disk, and Jupiter will be accompanied by its four Galilean moons. The two planets will rise by about 4:30 a.m. in your local time zone, and then remain visible until the sky brightens enough to hide them about 90 minutes later. Observers at southerly latitudes will see the planets higher and in a darker sky.
Saturday, April 30 – New Moon and partial solar eclipse (at 20:28 GMT)
The second new Moon in the calendar month will occur at 4:28 p.m. EDT or 20:28 UTC on Saturday, April 30. This new Moon will also feature a deep partial solar eclipse that will be visible across southeastern South America, the Ellsworth Land coast of Antarctica, and the South Pacific Ocean (sorry — it won’t be visible in Canada!). After the Moon’s penumbral shadow first contacts Earth at 18:45:19 UTC, it will sweep eastward and north through Chile and Argentina until it lifts off Earth at 22:38:01 UTC. The instant of greatest eclipse, with the Moon blocking 0.64 of the sun’s diameter, will occur at sea south of Tierra del Fuego, Chile, at 20:41:26 UTC. This solar eclipse will be followed by a total lunar eclipse on May 15-16.
Sunday, May 1 – Venus meets Jupiter (before sunrise)
As May begins, the rapid sunward swing of Venus will be carrying it past Jupiter in a very close conjunction, visible in the eastern sky before sunrise. The two planets will be close enough to share the view in binoculars until May 6. During their close approach on Sunday, May 1, Venus and Jupiter will appear together in the eyepiece of a backyard telescope (inset), where six times brighter Venus will exhibit a 68%-illuminated disk, and Jupiter will be accompanied by its four Galilean moons. The two planets will rise by about 4:30 a.m. in your local time zone, and then remain visible until the sky brightens enough to hide them about 90 minutes later. Observers at lower latitudes will see the pair of planets shining higher and in a darker sky.
Sunday, May 1 – Mercury passes the Pleiades (after dusk)
On Sunday, May 1, look low in the western sky after dusk to see Mercury shining just to the left of the bright Pleiades star cluster, also known as Messier 45 and the Seven Sisters, in Taurus. Binoculars (green circle) will work well to see their meet-up. The cluster’s stars will become more easily visible as the sky darkens towards 9 p.m. By that time, however, you’ll be viewing them less clearly, through a greater thickness of Earth’s atmosphere. Mercury will stay near the cluster for several evenings beyond Sunday.
Chris Vaughan is a science writer, geophysicist, astronomer, planetary scientist and an “outreach RASCal.” He writes Astronomy Skylights, and you can follow him on Twitter at @astrogeoguy. He can also bring his Digital Starlab portable inflatable planetarium to your school or other daytime or evening event. Contact him through AstroGeo.ca to tour the Universe together.