We’re coming up on a remarkable series of nights for stargazing, culminating with the total lunar eclipse on April 14-15. Learn to see the planets tonight! Four planets are easy to see this month. Jupiter and Mars pop out first thing at nightfall. Saturn is up by late evening. Mars, Saturn and Venus all adorn the predawn and dawn sky.
Given clear skies, there is no way to overlook Jupiter and Mars this evening. Jupiter beams as the brightest star-like point of light in the April 2014 evening sky, while Mars shines on par with Sirius, the brightest star of the nighttime sky.
But you can’t mistake Mars for Sirius on these April 2014 evenings. After all, Mars shines steadily and is red in color, while Sirius is known as a great sparkler in many colors, especially when, as now, you’re likely to see it low in the sky. On the night of April 12, the red planet Mars shines beneath the moon as darkness falls. The moon and Mars will be even closer on April 13, and on the night of April 14-15 Mars will be both closest to Earth for this two-year period and near the moon as the moon undergoes a total lunar eclipse.
Meanwhile, Jupiter blazes away to the northeast of the constellation Orion while the star Sirius lodges to the southeast of this constellation.
As the great globe of Earth spins eastward beneath the heavens tonight, it causes the moon, planets and stars to travel westward across the sky. Saturn comes up by mid-to-late evening, and then Venus rises about one and one-half hours before the sun (at mid-northern latitudes). In the April 2014 predawn and dawn sky, behold Mars in the west, Saturn above Mars and Venus in the east.
As seen from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere now, or from tropical latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, you might even spot the planet Mercury beneath the planet Venus as night is giving way to dawn. As always, binoculars come in handy when looking for Mercury in the glow of dawn.
Bottom line: Mercury is tough to see this month. But four other worlds – Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Venus – are easy to see as they make their rounds in the April 2014 night sky. The moon is not far from Mars on April 12, and will be even closer on April 13. On the night of April 14-15, the moon will be both near Mars, plus the moon will undergo a total eclipse!