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| Astronomy Essentials | Space on Mar 31, 2014

April 2014 guide to the five visible planets

April 2014 is Mars’ time! We’re closer to Mars – and it’s brighter in our sky – than it has been since December 2007. On April 8, we pass between Mars and the sun.

The constellation Orion serves as your guide to the planet Jupiter and the star Sirius in April 2014.

Constellation Orion serves as your guide to planet Jupiter and star Sirius in April 2014.

Extend the Big Dipper handle to arc to the star Arcturus, spike the star Spica - and, in 2014, locate the red planet Mars. Read more

Extend the Big Dipper handle to arc to the star Arcturus, spike the star Spica – and, in 2014, locate the red planet Mars. Read more

Before going to bed on the night of April 15, look for the moon to shine between the planets Mars and Saturn..  Read more

Before going to bed on the night of April 15, look for the moon to shine between the planets Mars and Saturn.. Read more

Jupiter and Mars both pop into view as soon as darkness falls on these April 2014 evenings. Both are very, very bright. It’s not likely that you’ll mistake one planet for the other. They are in different parts of the sky, and they are different colors with Jupiter bold white and Mars reddish.

Jupiter is the more brilliant of these two stunning worlds. It’s by far the brightest starlike object in the evening sky. At nightfall, Jupiter resides high in the south to southwest sky (or if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, in the north to northwest). Watch for the moon to swing close to Jupiter on April 5, April 6 and April 7.

Mars at opposition on April 8, out from sundown to sunup

Mars is the planet to watch in April 2014. Its cycle of visibility in our sky is about two years – two long years between good apparitions of the Red Planet – and the time is now. As seen from the whole Earth, Mars now sits low in the east to southeast at nightfall and early evening, this month challenging the star Sirius for being the second-brightest point of light (after Jupiter) in the evening sky. Why is Mars so bright now? We go between the sun and Mars on April 8, bringing the planet to opposite the sun in our sky (opposition). In 2014, Mars is near Spica, Virgo’s brightest star, and the proximity of the two – reddish Mars and blue-white Spica – should help draw your eye. Plus there is a total lunar eclipse the night of April 14, and Mars will be shining next to the eclipsed moon. That’ll be something to see!

Total lunar eclipse for the Americas on night of April 14-15

Saturn is found in front of the constellation Libra the Scales. It rises in the east-southeast around 11 p.m. local Daylight Saving Time in early April, and by dusk or nightfall at the end of the month. Saturn climbs to its highest point in the sky 3:30 a.m. local Daylight Saving Time in early April and around 2 a.m. at the end of the month. See the close pairing of the waning moon with Saturn from mid-evening until dawn on the night of April 16-17 and April 17-18.

Venus, the sky’s brightest planet is still very prominent in the eastern predawn and dawn sky throughout April. In fact, dazzling Venus will remain the most brilliant starlike object in the morning sky until late October 2014, at which time it will shift over into the evening sky. The lovely waning crescent moon swings close to Venus on April 25, April 26 and April 27.

Mercury had a long apparition in the March 2014 sky. It’s still in the morning sky until nearly the end of April 2014, but you almost certainly need to be in the Southern Hemisphere or northern tropics for any chance of seeing Mercury, the innermost planet of the solar system, this month. Mercury reached its greatest western elongation – greatest angular distance from the sun on our sky’s dome – on March 14, and will pass over into the evening sky on April 26. May 2014 will present the Mercury’s best evening apparition of the year for the Northern Hemisphere.

Follow the links below to learn more about planets and special sky events in April 2014.

Follow the arc to Arcturus – and Mars – on spring evenings

Total lunar eclipse for the Americas on the night of April 14-15

Moon between Mars and Saturn on night of April 15-16

Lyrid meteors fly in predawn moonlight. Venus before dawn

Moon, Venus beautify the predawn and dawn sky on April 25

Waning moon and Venus still close before sunrise April 26

Old moon, Venus low in the east before sunrise April 27

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Evening planets in April 2014

Jupiter visible all evening, until an hour or two after midnight.

Mars rises at nightfall, up all night.

Saturn mid-to-late evening until dawn.

Morning planets in March 2014

Venus before sunrise throughout April.

Mercury before sunrise most of April, but tough to see.

What do we mean by visible planet?

The constellation Orion serves as your guide to the planet Jupiter and the star Sirius in April 2014.

The constellation Orion serves as your guide to the planet Jupiter and the star Sirius in April 2014.

Jupiter and one of its moons, Io, on February 28, 2014 via Earthsky Facebook friend Derek Brookes.  Thank you, Derek!

Jupiter and one of its moons, Io, on February 28, 2014 via Earthsky Facebook friend Derek Brookes. Thank you, Derek!

Jupiter and its four major moons as seen through a 10

With only a modest backyard telescope, you can easily see Jupiter’s four largest moons. Here they are through a 10″ (25 cm) Meade LX200 telescope. Image credit: Jan Sandberg

Jupiter visible all evening, until an hour or two after midnight. Jupiter is still bright and beautiful in April 2014. It’s the brightest celestial object to light up the evening sky in April 2014, with the exception of the moon. No star outshines Jupiter.

Earth swung between the sun and Jupiter on January 5, 2014. This was Jupiter’s yearly opposition – when it was opposite the sun – rising in the east as the sun was setting in the west, and setting in the west as the sun was rising in the east. That time has passed, and Jupiter is now visible for less of each night, but it still stays out past midnight throughout April.

Let the moon guide you to the giant planet Jupiter on April 5, April 6 and April 7.

By the way, Jupiter is still floating by two bright stars on the sky’s dome. These stars are noticeable for being both bright and close together: Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini.

Extend the Big Dipper handle to arc to the star Arcturus, spike the star Spica - and, in 2014, locate the red planet Mars. Read more

Extend the Big Dipper handle to arc to the star Arcturus, spike the star Spica – and, in 2014, locate the red planet Mars. Read more

Mars,  via Hubble Heritage Project

Mars sometimes appears small through telescopes, and sometimes appears larger! It all depends on where Earth and Mars are in orbit with respect to each other. In April 2014, Earth and Mars are on the same side of the sun, closest in two years. Image via Hubble Heritage Project

Mars rises at nightfall, up all night. April 2014 presents Mars at its moment of glory. That’s because Earth has caught up with Mars in the race of the planets around the sun, and the distance between our two worlds is least for this two-year period. We pass between Mars and the sun on April 8, at which time Mars appears opposite the sun in our sky. Astronomers will say Mars is in opposition to the sun on April 8.

Our exact moment of being closest to Mars comes a few days later, on April 14. And, in an astounding piece of luck, Mars is near the moon that night, plus there is a total lunar eclipse! So we will have Mars – at its closest in two years – shining at its brightest for this two-year period next to the eclipsed moon on the night of April 14-15. It doesn’t get any better. Pray for clear skies!

To prepare for eclipse night, or just to enjoy something beautiful in the night sky, watch for Mars near the moon on the night of April 13, too.

Throughout April 2014, Mars shines at its brightest best for the year, indeed for two years, and moreover, Mars lights up Earth’s night sky from dusk until dawn! Mars is noticeable near the star Spica in the constellation Virgo on the sky’s dome. When there is no moon to guide you to Mars, try using the Big Dipper to “arc to Arcturus and spike to Spica” – and in 2014, to locate Mars. See the illustration above to learn how.

Keep in mind that Jupiter shines more brilliantly than Mars does. When Jupiter sits low in the west around midnight, look for Mars to be at or near its highest point in the sky.

Why are we showing you this chart for May 2014, in April's sky calendar?  It's because Saturn will be at its best in May, rising at sunset.  But this chart works this month, too, if you watch for Saturn a little later at night - late evening in early April and mid-evening by late April.

Why are we showing you this chart for May 2014, in April’s sky calendar? It’s because Saturn will be at its best in May, rising at sunset. But this chart works this month, too, if you watch for Saturn a little later at night – late evening in early April and mid-evening by late April.

Planet Saturn at the April 28, 2013 opposition (day Earth went between sun and Saturn) from EarthSky Facebook friend D.R. Keck Photography.

Planet Saturn at its April 28, 2013 opposition (day Earth went between sun and Saturn in 2013) from EarthSky Facebook friend D.R. Keck Photography.

Saturn as captured by the Cassini spacecraft in early February 2014.  Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004.  Many awesome images!

Saturn as captured by the Cassini spacecraft in early February 2014. Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004. Many awesome images!

Saturn mid-to-late evening until dawn. At mid-northern latitudes, Saturn rises around 11 p.m. local Daylight Saving Time in early April and at dusk or nightfall by late March. This golden-colored world shines in front of the constellation Libra the Scales.

Let the waning moon help guide you to Saturn on the night of April April 16-17.

Saturn is rising earlier day by day, and will easily appear in the evening sky before your bedtime by mid-April 2014 because Earth is catching up to Saturn in the race of the planets around the sun. We will pass between Saturn and the sun, bringing Saturn opposite the sun (opposition) on May 10. Saturn will be out all night long and at its best in May 2014.

Binoculars won’t reveal Saturn’s gorgeous rings, but a small telescope will. This month, Saturn climbs fairly high in the predawn sky and should be a fine telescopic object. Saturn’s rings are inclined by more than 22o from edge-on in April 2014, showing us their north face. Several years from now, in October 2017, the rings will open most widely, displaying a maximum inclination of 27o. As with so much in space (and on Earth), the appearance of Saturn’s rings from Earth is cyclical. In the year 2025, the rings will appear edge-on as seen from Earth. After that, we’ll begin to see the south side of Saturn’s rings, to increase to a maximum inclination of 27o by May 2032.

By the time dawn came to the western half of the U.S. this morning (February 26), the moon was below Venus.  Even light pollution couldn't diminish the view of them.  Photo from our friend Christy Sanchez in Denver.  Thanks, Christy.

Venus is bright. Even light pollution can’t diminish the view of it. Photo from our friend Christy Sanchez, in Denver, on February 26, 2014. Thanks, Christy.

Venus before sunrise throughout April. Venus beams in the eastern predawn and dawn sky throughout April. At mid-northern latitudes, it rises about two hours before sunrise in early April and about one and one-half hours before sunup by the month’s end. Venus will continue to shine as the “morning star” until late September or early October 2014.

Use the slender waning crescent moon to help you find Venus in the morning sky on April 25, April 26 and April 27.

You need a telescope to observe the phases of Venus. Whenever you see Venus in the morning sky, it is always moving away from Earth and its phase is continually waxing (getting broader). This month, Venus’ disk starts out about 54% illuminated and ends the month about 66% illuminated at the month’s end. Venus’ illuminated portion covered the greatest square area of sky on February 15, when its disk was 26% illuminated. Believe it or not, Venus shines at or near its brightest in the morning (or evening) sky when its disk is about one-quarter lit up in sunshine. Nonetheless, Venus will remain the brightest star-like object in the morning sky for months to come!

Mercury and moon, by GregDiesel Landscape Photography

Mercury and moon on February 27, 2014, by GregDiesel Landscape Photography. Greg managed to catch Mercury just at the beginning of its long March 2014 apparition in the predawn sky.

Mercury before sunrise most of April, but tough to see. Mercury had a long apparition in the March 2014 sky. Although sinking into the glare of sunrise day by day, Mercury remains officially in the morning sky until nearly the end of April 2014. However, you almost certainly need to be in the Southern Hemisphere or the northern tropics for any chance of seeing Mercury, the innermost planet of the solar system, this month. Mercury reached its greatest western elongation – greatest angular distance from the sun on our sky’s dome – on March 14, and will pass over into the evening sky on April 26. May 2014 will present the Mercury’s best evening apparition of the year for the Northern Hemisphere.

What do we mean by visible planet? By visible planet, we mean any solar system planet that is easily visible without an optical aid and that has been watched by our ancestors since time immemorial. In their outward order from the sun, the five visible planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. These planets are visible in our sky because their disks reflect sunlight, and these relatively nearby worlds tend to shine with a steadier light than the distant, twinkling stars. They tend to be bright! You can spot them, and come to know them as faithful friends, if you try.

Bottom line: In April 2014, two of the five visible planets – Jupiter and Mars – will be visible first thing at nightfall. However, the planet Saturn is rising earlier in the evening sky daily. Mars will shine all night long in April 2014 whereas Saturn will shine all night long in May 2014. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you still might be able to see Mercury in the morning sky in the early part of April!

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Jupiter was rivaling the streetlights on December 29, 2013, when Mohamed Laaifat Photographies captured this photo in Normandy, France.

Jupiter was rivaling the streetlights on December 29, 2013, when Mohamed Laaifat Photographies captured this photo in Normandy, France. Visit his page on Facebook.

Jupiter and its four major moons as seen through a 10

With only a modest backyard telescope, you can easily see Jupiter’s four largest moons. Here they are through a 10″ (25 cm) Meade LX200 telescope. Image credit: Jan Sandberg

Skywatcher, moon, planet (looks like Venus) from Predrag Agatonovic.

Skywatcher, moon, planet (looks like Venus) from Predrag Agatonovic.

Venus on Dec. 26 by Danny Crocker-Jensen

Venus on Dec. 26 by Danny Crocker-Jensen

On the moonless evening of December 3, 2013, Chris Georgia took this gorgeous photo of the constellation Orion (above his head and left of the light pole), the planet Jupiter (brightest star-like object at left), and the Gemini stars to upper left of Jupiter: Castor (at top) and Pollux (at bottom). Thank you so much, Chris! View larger

On the moonless evening of December 3, 2013, Chris Georgia took this gorgeous photo of the constellation Orion (above his head and left of the light pole), the planet Jupiter (brightest star-like object at left), and the Gemini stars to upper left of Jupiter: Castor (at top) and Pollux (at bottom). Thank you so much, Chris! View larger

These are called star trails. It’s a long-exposure photo, which shows you how Earth is turning under the stars. The brightest object here is Jupiter, which is the second-brightest planet, after Venus. This awesome photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Mohamed Laaifat in Normandy, France. Thank you, Mohamed.

View larger. | Venus shining above the rock of Asseu, Gulf of Riva Trigoso, Sestri Levante, Ligurian Sea, Genoa, Italy, November 29, 2013, via Maranatha.it Photography.

View larger. | Venus shining above the rock of Asseu, Gulf of Riva Trigoso, Sestri Levante, Ligurian Sea, Genoa, Italy, November 29, 2013, via Maranatha.it Photography.

It's very difficult to pick out Mercury in the evening during the autumn months, but it can be done.  This photo of Mercury is from autumn 2012.  Notice how deeply buried the planet is in twilight.  Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Gary P. Caton.  Thank you, Gary!

It’s very difficult to pick out Mercury in the evening during the autumn months, but it can be done. This photo of Mercury is from an evening apparition of Mercury last autumn: October 22, 2012. Notice how deeply buried the planet is in twilight. Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Gary P. Caton. Thank you, Gary!

View larger. | Mars and moon as seen from Hong Kong on October 2, 2013 via EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin.  Thank you, Matthew!  Mars is getting easier to see, but it's still pretty close to the sunrise, and it's relatively faint in contrast to how bright it will become in 2014.

View larger. | Mars and moon as seen from Hong Kong on October 2, 2013 via EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin. Thank you, Matthew!

View larger. |  EarthSky Facebook friend Peter Wong in Adelaide, Australia captured this image of planets and the star Spica in the west after sunset on September 26, 2013.  As seen from the Southern Hemisphere - where it's spring now - the planets are straight up above the sunset.  Thank you, Peter!

View larger. | EarthSky Facebook friend Peter Wong in Adelaide, Australia captured this image of planets and the star Spica in the west after sunset on September 26, 2013. Thank you, Peter!

View larger. | Moon and Venus on September 7, as captured by EarthSky Facebook friend Ken Christison in North Carolina.  Thank you, Ken!  On Sunday evening - September 8 - the moon will appear much closer to Venus.  The Americas, in particular, will get a dramatically close view of the pair.

View larger. | Here are the moon and Venus on September 7, 2013 as captured by EarthSky Facebook friend Ken Christison in North Carolina. Thank you, Ken!

View larger. | Mercury, Venus and Jupiter seen when evening fell in Hong Kong earlier today - June 1, 2013 - by EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin.  Awesome shot, Matthew!

View larger. | Mercury, Venus and Jupiter seen when evening fell in Hong Kong earlier today – June 1, 2013 – by EarthSky Facebook friend Matthew Chin. Awesome shot, Matthew!

View larger.  |  From left to right, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury as seen last night, May 24.  EarthSky Facebook friend Duke Marsh captured this photo in Clarksville, Indiana.

View larger. | From left to right, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury as seen May 24, 2013. EarthSky Facebook friend Duke Marsh captured this photo in Clarksville, Indiana.

View larger. | The two brightest objects in this photo - and in your evening sky on May 12, 2013 - appeared to be the waxing crescent moon and Jupiter.   In reality, an even brighter planet - Venus - was also up, but buried in bright twilight.  Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Daniel McVey.

View larger. | The two brightest objects in this photo – and in your evening sky on May 12, 2013 – appeared to be the waxing crescent moon and Jupiter. In reality, an even brighter planet – Venus – was also up, but buried in bright twilight. Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Daniel McVey.

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