Hey, Sky Fans! I just came back in from a cup of coffee outside; in a quiet, little out-of-the-way-place, just me and the just-about-third quarter moon. I love these morning phases, especially with a cup of coffee. I hope you’ll have a chance to have a look, too.
Anyhow, the planet Mars, the one with all the robots rolling around all over it, has been in our skies for a good long while. In fact, if you can believe it, it was almost a year ago already that it was at opposition, and very big and bright. Now, though, we’re moving farther apart. The north’s spring nights are getting longer as they stretch toward June’s summer solstice. Before we know what hit us, Mars, along with what’s left of the Winter Circle’s stars, will settle into the dusk and be gone from the evening for a good, long while. In fact, and I haven’t done much checking into this, so it could be an alternative fact, once the dusk swallows it up toward the end of May, Mars’ll be gone from the evening skies until July… July 2018.
Before it goes, though, it’s about time for the denouement of the long Mars story. Starting tonight, and continuing on through the end of April, Mars will be low toward the horizon around dusk. Night by night it’ll climb backward against the stars of Taurus and Gemini; the eastern half of the Winter Circle, which is now reduced to, maybe, let’s call it the Winter Arc… of Spring.
As it climbs, it’ll pass right by the two gorgeous, nearby star clusters, The Hyades and the Pleaides (Messier 45). If you head out tonight, April 18, a little while after the stars start to poke through the twilight, look for the tiny-dipper-shaped Pleiades. pale-orange Mars, subtle, understated, and fighting to be seen, will be about 4 degrees, maybe a little less, the width of a couple fingers held out at arm’s length, closer toward the horizon.
Keep an eye on that corner of the sky over the next week. My favorite night of the bunch will be next Tuesday, the night of the 25th. That evening, Mars will be pretty close to smack between the two clusters. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully, the clouds will cooperate (fat chance).
By now, they’re tired, and maybe a little cliché, but with Mars among them, the scene will be worth one more look. I hope you can give it a chance. Clear skies, everyone!