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Planet parade is lining up

By Vernon Whetstone
Amateur Astronomer

We can’t discuss how well the total lunar eclipse went because this is being written well in advance of the event. We can only hope that the current spate of clear skies lasted until April 15.
What we can talk about, however, is the parade of planets that is showing in our early evening and early morning skies currently.
Starting tonight, Wednesday, April 16, about an hour after local sunset look high in the west for the bright dot that is the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. Binoculars could show the four Galilean moons, and a telescope will reveal the stripes which run around the planet in the northern and southern hemispheres.
Just below Jupiter is our old friend Orion, the Hunter. To his lower right is another bright dot that is the star Aldebaran in Taurus, the Bull and a little further right is the nice little star cluster Pleiades.
Swing over to between the eastern and southeastern horizon for another bright dot. This time we have the planet Mars. Mars was at opposition on April 8, and closest to Earth for the next 2.5 years on April 13. It rises about sunset and sets about sunrise.
The bright star just below Mars is Spica, the brightest star in the Constellation Virgo, the Maiden.
We will also have the opportunity on Wednesday evening to view a super-close conjunction of the moon and the ringed-planet Saturn. The pair will be just above the eastern horizon at about 11:30 MT. You can adjust for your own timezone.
Saturn will be about one degree to the moon’s upper left. The moon is about one-half degree wide so you can see how close it will be.
Now, you can either go to bed and plan on getting up at about 5:30 a.m., or stay up and catch some of the wonders of the upcoming summer sky as the constellations of the Summer Triangle make an appearance, at least Lyra, the Harp.
Bright Vega marks the upper edge, if you have access to a telescope you might try to dig out M57, The Ring Nebula, on the lower edge, but you might want to wait an hour or so to let it get a little higher above the horizon,
By that time the other two constellations, Cygnus and Aquila, will be just clearing the horizon.
Now, if you decide to retire, set your alarm for 5 a.m. so you can be outside by 5:30 a.m. MT to catch a view of bright Venus before the glow of the sunrise overtakes it.
Venus, being a planet closer to the Sun than Earth will go through phases just like the moon. At present it is looking like a first-quarter moon, or about half lit. Mercury, also being an interior planet goes through phases.
We will have an opportunity to check out Mercury’s phases in the early evening sky during the first weeks of May.
SKYWATCH: Third-quarter moon Wednesday, April 23.
NEXT WEEK: The moon and Venus make a hook-up and more astronomical blathering.