April Fool’s Day and the end of the year!

During the Middle Ages New Year’s Day was celebrated on March 25 in most European cities and towns as it way near the Vernal Equinox.  Often the celebration lasted a week, and the last day was a day of pranks and jokes which today we observe as April Fool’s Day.  Here is your guide to the sky for March 27 to April 2, 2017…

Sun – Earth – Moon

Sunrise this week is at 6:30 am and sunset at 6:53 pm as our days continue to lengthen. New Moon takes place on Monday night, and try finding the young crescent Moon on Tuesday or Wednesday evening in the west right after sunset.  The Moon is at Perigee on March 30th at 8:33 am.

Planets, planets, and more planets

Mercury continues to gain height in evening twilight setting at 8:15 pm and reaches its greatest elongation on April 1stA young crescent Moon will pass 7 degrees north of Mercury on Wednesday, and 5 degrees north of the Moon on Thursday helping you find these planets.  Mars is visible until around 10:00 pm this week.    Jupiter rises around 7:45 pm in the east just above the star Spica and Venus transitions to the “Morning Star” this week. It will rise in the east around 5:30 am. Saturn rises in the eastern sky around 1:30 am.

Starchart provided by Heavens-above.com

Constellations – Virgo the goddess of fertility

Last week we followed the Big Dipper’s handle to make an “arc” to the bright star Arcturus in Bootes the Herdsman.  This week let’s continue that path and after “arcing to Arcturus” we will “Spike to Spica” in the constellation of Virgo.  Virgo is a large constellation and Spica represents a grain of wheat she is holding in one hand.  Farmers in northern Europe in ancient times used Spica as a guide to know when to plant their crops, waiting for it to rise in the east as the sun was setting.  This happens around the first week in April.  They would then harvest when Spica sets with the Sun, around the beginning of October.  Virgo stretches along the ecliptic and as a result the Sun takes 45 days to pass through this constellation being in it from mid-September to the end of October.

Satellites to see

Monday evening look for the ISS from 8:26 to 8:29 pm moving from southwest to southeast, while Tuesday you can see it from 7:34 to 7:40 pm moving from southwest to east. Wednesday it makes its brightest pass for the week from 8:17 to 8:23 pm moving from west to northeast, passing almost directly overhead 8:21 pm.  Friday it makes a bright pass from 8:09 to 8:15 pm moving from west to northeast.  On Saturday, April Fool’s Day try finding the Atlas 5 Centaur from 7:22 to 7:32 pm moving from southwest to northeast.

With longer days, soon the weather will be more spring like, and the evenings are fine for viewing the skies. Happy stargazing and keep your eye on the sky!


Shawn Laatsch

About Shawn Laatsch

Shawn Laatsch is the director of the Emera Astronomy Center and Jordan Planetarium at the University of Maine. He started his astronomy education career in 1984 and has directed planetariums in university and science center facilities, taught undergraduate astronomy courses, and given numerous lectures around the globe. He serves as President (2017 & 2018) of the International Planetarium Society, Inc. the world’s largest organization of planetarium professionals. Shawn has a passion for sharing astronomy and stargazing with people of all ages.