A short and sweet dawn lunar eclipse.
Mars continues to linger in the evening sky, though it now sets just before the end of astronomical twilight. Venus, on the other hand, is in its full glory as the “evening star,” blazing away at magnitude –4. It can be seen high in the west a few minutes after the Sun sets. The only planet that even approaches Venus’s brilliance is mighty Jupiter, which shines at magnitude –2.3 from the relatively dim constellation Cancer. The last planet up is Saturn, now rising at midnight. The ringed planet is at its best in the predawn sky when it’s highest. Saturn reaches the meridian just before 5 a.m., local daylight time, about half an hour before the start of morning twilight.
Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) remains a binocular target glowing a little fainter than magnitude 6 as it moves north through the constellation Cassiopeia. For more about the comet, see our detailed article here.
The gibbous Moon lies a few degrees south of big, bright Jupiter in the predawn sky. The two are closest at 2:35 a.m., EDT, (March 30) when they are separated by less than six degrees.
This morning the Moon is full, but more importantly, it also passes through the Earth’s shadow, resulting in a lunar eclipse. Unusually, the total phase of this eclipse is very short — only five minutes duration as the Moon just skims the northern section of the dark portion ( the umbra) of the Earth’s shadow. How much of this event you can see depends on where you are. Those viewing from the West Coast get the best show. The lunar disc will be completely immersed in the umbra from 4:58:01 a.m., PDT, to 5:02:32 a.m. For observers in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Moon will set after totality concludes and while the lunar disc is leaving the indistinct outer shadow region, known as the penumbra. From Manitoba west, you’ll see some totality, but for regions farther east, the Moon will set before totality begins. Observers in Toronto, for example will see only a partial eclipse during moonset while twilight brightens the sky.
See page 37 of the March/April issue of SkyNews for more coverage of the eclipse.
The nearly full Moon makes deep-sky observing all but impossible over the April 3 – 5 weekend, which means it’s a good time to catch up with Jupiter. The giant planet is two months past opposition and well placed for evening viewing, high on the ecliptic in Cancer. With its Great Red Spot, numerous belts and four bright moons, Jupiter is arguably the most compelling telescopic planet. Of course, the enemy of detailed planetary views is atmospheric seeing — the blurring effect caused by the air above us.
Astronomers use the term “seeing” to describe how steady the atmosphere is. (Seeing is distinct from “transparency,” which is simply how clear the air is.) When the seeing is poor, high-magnification views in your telescope will be blurry and indistinct. However, when the seeing is good — the air mass above is calm — you will be able to glimpse all kinds of detail that otherwise would be difficult to perceive. The less air you have to look through with your telescope, normally the better the view. So if you choose your observing sessions to coincide with when Jupiter is highest in the sky, you’ll be improving your chances of getting the most out of what your scope can deliver. This weekend Jupiter is at its best at about 9:30 p.m. local daylight time as it transits the meridian.
For more, see our Guide to Observing Jupiter.
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