The Planets for April 2014
Rising about 90 minutes before the Sun as April begins Mercury is fairly easy to spot in the eastern dawn sky. However the opportunity to glimpse the innermost planet is short lived as it moves toward superior conjunction with the Sun on the 26th of the month.
Unmistakable in the predawn eastern sky this month, the “Morning Star” is a magnificent sight as it appears to float in front of the stars of Capricorn. On the 5th it crosses the border into Aquarius where on the 12th it passes less than
1 degree to the north of Neptune. On the 26th a waning crescent Moon is just to the north of the planet which moves into Pisces on the 29th.
This is the ideal month for observing the red planet as it rises as the Sun sets and is visible all night long. It will be at opposition on the 9th of the month and its closest approach to the earth occurs on the 14th of the month. On this date it will lie 92,386,500 km from the Earth with an apparent diameter of just over 15 arcseconds. The almost full Moon will rise just before Mars on the 14th and 17 minutes later than the Moon on the 15th. There is a total eclipse of the Moon on the 15th but it will already be in total eclipse as in rises in the eastern states of Australia. Totality ends at 6:25pm EST.
High in the north western sky after the Sun has set; Jupiter still remains in the constellation Gemini for the entire month. It sets just after 11pm at the start of the month but by month’s end will be setting around 9:30pm. The first quarter Moon will be
7 degrees to the south east of Jupiter on the 7th of the month.
The ringed planet rises at 8:00pm at the beginning of April and stands out against the stars of Libra. It is time to get the telescopes out and observe this fantastic planet with its magnificent ring system which can be seen even in small telescopes. Its major moon Titan will also be obvious but a larger instrument will be needed to spot some of its fainter satellites. By the end of the month Saturn will enter the eastern sky around 6pm and be visible for the entire night. The waning gibbous Moon rises 45 minutes prior to Saturn on the 16th and 6 minutes later than the planet on the 17th.
(1) Total lunar eclipse visible from eastern Australia on the 15th of April.
The moon will already be eclipsed by moonrise. Totality ends 6:25pm EST
(2) Partial solar eclipse visible across Australia on the 29th of April.
Maximum partial eclipse 5:15pm EST.
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The Planets for May 2014
The innermost planet returns to the western evening twilight sky this month reaching its greatest elongation from the Sun on the 25th of the month and setting eighty minutes later than the Sun. On the 20th it passes less than 4
degrees to the south of beta Tauri (El Nath), the star that marks the tip of one of the horns of Taurus the bull. The thin waxing crescent Moon will be 7
degrees to the left of Mercury on the 30th and 8
degrees above the planet on the 31st.
Rising at 3:00am as May begins, Venus stands out against the backdrop of fainter stars of Pisces and Cetus. It travels the length of one of the celestial fish, passing by Uranus on the 16th and 17th and encountering the thin crescent of a waning Moon on the 25th and 26th of the month.
High in the north eastern sky just after sunset, the red planet outshines the stars of its host constellation, Virgo. The colour contrast between the ruddy tint of Mars and the blue white of Virgo’s brightest star Spica is unmistakable and made easier by their separation of less than 14
degrees for the entire month. The waxing gibbous Moon will be less than 3
degrees to the south of Mars on the 11th of the month.
Low in the north western sky after sunset, Jupiter will be setting at 9:30pm at the beginning of May but by month’s end will set before 8:00pm. Still tucked into the stars of the Gemini twins it is joined by the waxing crescent Moon on the 4th.
The ringed planet is opposite the Sun on the 11th of May and visible all night long. It rises at 6:00pm at the beginning of the month balanced on the scales of Libra and will remain so for all of May. Saturn is a most magnificent sight and the rings can be seen even in small telescopes. The near full Moon will occult Saturn on the evening of the 14th. This event should be visible in Australia south of a line drawn from Noosa Heads in Queensland to Wyndham in Western Australia. North of this line the Moon will pass very close to Saturn. Timings for the start of the event are listed:-
(Sydney 20:56 EST ---- 21:59 EST)
(Melbourne 20:50 EST---- 22:00 EST)
(Canberra 20:53 EST ---- 22:00 EST)
(Hobart 20:59 EST ---- 22:11 EST)
(Brisbane 21:09 EST ---- 21:17 EST)
(Adelaide 20:09 CST ----21:17 EST)
(Perth 18:26 WST ---- 19:24 WST)
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The Planets for June 2014
Low in the western evening twilight just after sunset, Mercury sets 90 minutes later than the Sun the first few days of May. On the 2nd it passes through the open cluster M35 in Gemini although the cluster will be a little washed out in the dying twilight. It will be in inferior conjunction with the Sun On the 20th after which in moves into the eastern morning sky. The last few days finds it rising an hour before the Sun very close to zeta Tauri, the fainter of the stars marking the tips of the bulls horns.
The “Morning Star” rises three hours before the Sun on the 1st of June and shines brilliantly as it crosses into the sparsely light constellation of Aries. It spends over half the month traversing Aries before crossing the border into Taurus on the 18th. By the end of the month it lies only 90 arcminutes from epsilon Tauri, the star marking the half closed eye of the bull. The thin waning crescent Moon rises just before Venus on the 24th and 12 minutes later than the planet on the 25th of the month.
High in the north eastern sky after sunset, Mars resides the whole month in Virgo. It came to the end of its retrograde loop on the 21st of last month and is again moving eastward against the background stars. As a result of this it moves ever closer to Virgo’s brightest star Spica starting the month
14 degrees from the star and by month’s end lying only
6 degrees away. The waxing gibbous Moon will be just to the west of Mars on the 7th and a little to the east on the 8th of the month.
The giant planet is getting harder to observe as by the end of June it will be setting only 90 minutes later than the Sun. The waxing crescent moon will pay Jupiter a visit on the 1st of the month and again on the 29th.
Still in a prime position for observation, the magnificent ringed planet can be located high in the eastern sky after the Sun has set. It still hangs on the stars of Libra-The Scales but is much brighter than Libra’s brightest stars Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali. It also has a faint yellowish tinge which gives away its identity. On the 10th the waxing gibbous Moon will be a few degrees to the west of Saturn.
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