Mar 30, 2019
by Tre Gibbs, Los Angeles Astronomical Society
Spring is in full swing! The days are noticeably long and growing longer, and the nights keep getting shorter as Earth heads towards June’s Summer Solstice. Last month we experienced the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox, signaling equal amounts of day and night in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. Now that we are a month beyond this celestial event, it has become clear that the amount of daylight has grown and, conversely, the amount of night has diminished. Enjoy it - after June 21st, the days begin to get shorter again…
This month’s Full Moon is known as The Full Pink Moon. Indigenous people labeled this moon as such due to its proximity to the arrival of the first Spring flowers. Since the moon is in continuous motion around the Earth, it’s only technically full for a moment at 4:12 am on April 19th, but as per usual, the moon also APPEARS full the day before and the day after.
Hey - the planets are up there also! As Earth both orbits our nearest star, The Sun, and rotates on its axis, at night time (weather permitting) we are treated to a full view of our solar system each night as well as a plethora of stars in our galaxy, The Milky Way. Since every planet (including ours) travels at different distances and speeds in their respective orbits around The Sun, we only are able to view the planets at inconsistent and sporadic - yet predictable - increments of time. For example, last Spring and Summer we were able to view Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in our early evening skies. Now, almost one year later, we still have Mars BARELY visible, low in the western sky, but the others are visible in our south eastern pre-dawn skies.
On the morning of April 1st, the moon pairs up with the brilliant planet Venus - but both will be so low on the eastern horizon that they will be incredibly difficult to spot. The good news is that Venus is low on the eastern horizon because it’s heading towards The Sun, which means it’s only a matter of months until it appears in our western skies after sunset again. On the early evening of April 8th, the moon has made its way around Earth and appears low in our western skies after sunset and pairs with Mars, but yet again, Mars is so low and faint - as is the new, young crescent moon, that both will be difficult to spot. So - that leaves us Jupiter and Saturn…
During the early morning hours of April 23rd, Jupiter will rise around 1:00 am with the moon. The interesting thing is, the moon will be so close to Jupiter, it will actually appear to partially obscure it as the night progresses. By 5:30 am, look for Jupiter in the south with a gibbous moon above it - but so close to Jupiter, they both seem to be touching as daybreak overtakes the Roman King of the Gods. Two days later, on April 25th, look for the moon rising with Saturn, The Roman God of Agriculture, in the east around 4:00 am. Saturn is a big planet, but because it’s SO FAR AWAY, it appears only as regular, non-twinkling “star”. By 5:00 - 5:30 am both are heading to the south, getting a little higher in the sky with the moon appearing to get so close that it almost obscures the quintessential ringed gas giant. By 5:45 am, there will be enough light in the morning sky that Saturn will quickly fade from view, while the moon will visually continue its path across the morning sky.
Life is short, the night sky is majestic! Take the time to pause and look up - it’s literally OTHER WORLDLY !!! See you in May !
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