Crows, Comets, and Stationary Planets

Cawing along with Corvus and two stationary planets, and a binocular comet make this a fun week ahead stargazing. Here is your guide to the sky for April 2 to 8, 2017…

Sun – Earth – Moon

Sunrise this week is at 6:08 am and sunset at 7:08 pm. First Quarter Moon takes place on Monday night, and this day back in 1966 Luna 10 became the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon.

Planets – becoming stationary instead of wandering

Mercury continues to be a good target for viewer in western sky after sunset. It will set around 8:35, so do catch it as early as possible in evening twilight.  Mars is in Aries and is visible until around 10:00 pm this week.    Jupiter rises around 7:30 pm in the east just above the star Spica, on Friday it reaches opposition “meaning it is directly opposite from the Sun” from our vantage point on Earth.  At opposition it is visible from sunset to sunrise.  Venus rises around 5:18 this week and will gain in altitude as the week progresses.  Saturn rises in the eastern sky around 1:20 am this week and is stationary on Thursday.  Planets normally appear to move in “proper motion” going from west to east versus the background of stars, but as Earth overtakes them in their orbits, they slow down “appear to stop” or become stationary for a night and then start to go into retrograde motion moving from east to west.   Mercury will be stationary on Sunday – so we have two this week which Earth is “overtaking” in their orbits.

Try finding a comet with binoculars

This week, periodic comet Tuttle-Giacibini-Kresak or 41P makes a nice view in binoculars, dashing across the northern circumpolar sky and brightening as it goes.  You should be able to see it all of this week.  You will need binoculars to see it as it is just beyond human vision.  With them it will appear as a small fuzzy blob.  Try using this Comet Chart from to find it.

Finder chart for Comet 41P from

Finder chart for Comet 41P from

Constellations – Corvus the Crow, cawing along

Last week we followed the Big Dipper’s handle to make an “arc” to the bright star Arcturus in Bootes and then we “spiked to Spica” in Virgo.  This week we continue that path to a little constellation just next to Virgo called Corvus which is a crow.  The constellation is made of four stars that make a quadrilateral box just beyond Virgo.  To the Babylonians it was a raven and was sacred to a Adad the god of rain and storms rising just before their rainy season.  To the Greeks it was a beautiful white feathered bird that Apollo cursed for bringing him news his lover Coronis was unfaithful, and Apollo turned his feathers black in a fit of rage.  Here in Maine, I’ve started to see a bunch of crows recently, which remind me of this little constellation which sticks out in spring skies

Satellites to see

Tuesday evening look for the ISS from 7:53 to 8:00 pm moving from west to northeast. Wednesday you can see it from 8:38 to 8:42 pm moving from northwest to northeast. Thursday look for it from 9:22 to 9:25 pm moving from northwest to north.  It makes its brightest pass of the week on Saturday from 9:13 to 9:17 moving from west to north.

Get out in this warming weather, grab your binoculars and find that comet.  Check out Corvus and the other spring constellations, and of course watch those planets and satellites! 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.