Northern Sky: April 25 – May 8
In late April and early May, we get to watch Venus sink into the sun’s afterglow. To see our sister planet at its best and brightest, we have to wait for a dark sky, and this time of year the sun is going down later each night. And the longer we wait, the lower Venus gets.
On Saturday, April 25, a waxing crescent moon appears below Venus and next to Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, the bull. The next night, Sunday, April 26, a fatter moon appears at about the same level as Venus. Both these solar system objects will be between Betelgeuse, the gigantic red star in Orion, to the lower left, and Capella, the brightest star in Auriga, the charioteer, to the upper right. On the 27th and 28th, the moon moves through the stars of Gemini. On May 1st, the moon is just past first quarter, and it appears above Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, the lion. The moon will also be part of the backward question mark of stars known as the Sickle, which outlines Leo’s head. The moon may wash out the stars of the Sickle, but they’ll be easier to find in several days, after the moon has moved on. Between the 4th and 5th of May, the moon passes over Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, the maiden.
May’s full moon arrives at 5:45 a.m. on the 7th. It’ll be big and bright, another supermoon. You might want to look for it the night before or the night after, even though it’ll be somewhere around half a day before or past full. If you go out the morning of the 7th to see it at its roundest, be advised that from Grand Marais the moon sets, in the west, at 5:59 a.m.
The morning sky continues to brighten earlier and earlier, turning into some kind of insomniac’s wonderland. These days you really have to get out by 5 a.m. to see Jupiter, that’s the big bright light in the southeast, and especially Saturn and Mars, before sunlight starts extinguishing them. If you haven’t been following them, Saturn is not far to the left, that is, east, of Jupiter, and Mars is even farther away to the east, and lower. You may notice Mars getting higher from day to day, but the more noticeable change is Saturn and Jupiter moving westward. As the month progresses, the gap between Mars and Saturn gets really wide.
The Summer Triangle of bright stars is also up in the predawn sky. Above Jupiter and Saturn is Altair, in Aquila, the eagle. Moving up from Altair, we have the brightest star in the Triangle, Vega, in the constellation Lyra, the lyre of Orpheus. And moving down from Vega and a bit east, there’s Deneb, in Cygnus the swan. Also, the Milky Way forms a ribbon stretching from south to northeast.
The end of April and beginning of May have some good dates for spotting the International Space Station in the morning sky. The sightings run from April 26 to May 1. The most spectacular will probably be the last one, on May 1, when the ISS makes its appearance at 4:32 a.m.,18 degrees above the southwest horizon. It’ll be bright and visible for four minutes, and it gets as high as 60 degrees, or two-thirds of the way to overhead. For a list of the exact dates and times near Grand Marais, search for “spot the station,” click on “sighting opportunities,” go to the map of Minnesota and click on the Grand Portage National Monument icon.