The sky, April 28 – May 5: Jupiter sets for the season

Special to, April 28, 2024

Excerpts from weekly Sky&Telescope report.


■ Hydra’s dim, irregular body and tail stretch all the way to Libra just risen in the southeast. He carries Crater and Corvus on his back.

Below Crater, in Hydra’s most southerly part, is the new 12th-magnitude supernova in the 10th-magnitude galaxy NGC 3621. For finder charts, see the top of this page.

May 3, 30 minutes after dusk. Sky&Telescope.


■ Face north just after nightfall, look very high, and you’ll find the Pointers, the end stars of the Big Dipper’s bowl, on the north meridian pointing toward Polaris straight down below. From the Pointers to Polaris is about three fists at arm’s length.


■ The last-quarter Moon rises around 2 or 3 a.m. tonight, depending on your location. Before Wednesday’s dawn it shines low in the southeast, in southern Capricornus. It turns exactly first quarter at 7:27 a.m. Wednesday EDT; 4:27 a.m. PDT.


■ Although it’s May now, wintry Sirius still twinkles very low in the west-southwest at the end of twilight. It sets soon after. Hint: Find Sirius far below Procyon and a bit left. Procyon is the bright star lower left of Pollux and Castor.


■ Summer is still seven weeks away, but the Summer Triangle is beginning to make its appearance in the east, one star after another. The first in view is bright Vega. It’s already visible low in the northeast as twilight fades.

Next up is Deneb, lower left of Vega by about two fists at arm’s length. Deneb takes an hour or so to appear after Vega does.

The third is Altair, which shows up far to their lower right by midnight.


■ After sunset, use binoculars or a wide-field telescope to try for a last look at Jupiter. It’s just above the west-northwest horizon in moderately bright twilight, as shown below. If you succeed, you will be among the last few people on Earth to see the giant planet so close to the end of its 2023-24 apparition.

Jupiter just about to set on the WNW horizon 30 minutes after sunset, May 3, 2024

Jupiter is about to set for the evening and for the season. Use optical aid to scan for it starting about 20 minutes after sunset. Good luck. The visibility of objects through bright twilight is greatly exaggerated here.

■ On the opposite side of the Sun, low in dawn Saturday morning, the waning crescent Moon hangs between Saturn to its upper right and Mars to its left or lower left.


■ The Eta Aquariid meteor shower, bits of the rubble stream shed by Halley’s Comet, often presents the best meteor display of the year for the Southern Hemisphere. But for us northerners the shower’s radiant point is still quite low even as dawn begins. Nevertheless, meteor watchers in the southern U.S. may catch the brief death streaks of a few Halley bits before dawn on May 5th and 6th.


■ A gigantic spring asterism you may not know is the Great Diamond, some 50° tall and extending over five constellations. It now stands upright in the southeast to south after dusk.

Start with Spica, its bottom. Upper left from Spica is bright Arcturus. Almost as far upper right from Arcturus is fainter Cor Caroli, 3rd magnitude. The same distance lower right from there is Denebola, the 2nd-magnitude tailtip of Leo. And then back to Spica. Robert H. Baker may have been the first to name the Great Diamond, in his 1954 book When the Stars Come Out.

The bottom three of these stars, the brightest, form a nearly perfect equilateral triangle. We can call this the “Spring Triangle” to parallel to those of summer and winter. The first to name it such was probably the late Sky & Telescope columnist George Lovi, writing in the March 1974 issue and again in May 1977.

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