April 13, 2024

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Total solar eclipse, rising of Mars and Saturn, thin lunar crescent, comet 12P

Total solar eclipse, rising of Mars and Saturn, thin lunar crescent, comet 12P

In April 2024, skywatchers can enjoy a total solar eclipse that can be seen across the United States, with Mars and Saturn coming together early in the month, and Jupiter and the crescent Moon conjunct on April 10. Comet 12P will also be visible, creating the appearance of a crowded planet. A month of celestial events. Credit: SciTechDaily.com

What are some of the highlights of skywatching in April 2024? Catch Mars And Saturn height, and Jupiter Hanging out with comet 12P. Plus NASA Whether you're heading to the total eclipse or watching from afar, you've got the total eclipse covered.

Total eclipse time!

A total solar eclipse will be witnessed across the United States on April 8. US areas outside of totality will enjoy a partial eclipse and can join NASA's live online eclipse broadcast!

Highlights

  • All month long – Jupiter is a bright, constant light low in the western sky after sunset.
  • April 8 – A total solar eclipse across the United States, as the moon's shadow moves from Texas north through Maine. Outside the path of totality, the rest of the continental United States will witness a partial eclipse. The amount of sun covered by the moon at maximum eclipse depends on your distance from the path of totality.
  • April 8-12 – Mars and Saturn rise together in the hour or so before sunrise. They are closest on April 10 and 11 – a distance of about half a degree, or the width of a full moon.)
  • April 10 – Look for the thin lunar crescent (only 7% illuminated) hanging over bright Jupiter in the west after sunset. Comet 12P can be seen with binoculars or a small telescope about 6 degrees below the moon, just below and to the right of Jupiter.
  • April 23 – Full moon
Rising sky chart for Mars April 2024

Sky chart showing Mars rising with Saturn during the second week of April. They will be closest on April 10 and 11. Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltch

Video version

What's new in April? Some planets are easier to spot, there's still time to observe Comet 12P, and how to enjoy this month's solar eclipse if you're not in the path of totality.

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For several days in the first half of April, early risers can watch Mars and Saturn rise together in the morning. Looking at it about half an hour before sunrise, it's low in the east, about 10 degrees above the horizon. They will be at their closest on April 10 and 11, but remain very close to the sky throughout the second week of April.

Now, on the evening of April 10, you can find the Moon with Jupiter in the west. Jupiter is easy to recognize as a bright, unblinking light, low in the west after sunset, throughout the month. Just two days into its “new moon” phase, the moon is showing only 7% of its surface illuminated this evening, forming a beautiful crescent that shines there with the giant planet Jupiter.

Outline of the crescent moon over Jupiter's sky for April 2024

A sky chart shows the crescent Moon above Jupiter and Comet 12P in the western sky after sunset on April 10. Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This is also a good night to catch a glimpse of Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, which has become brighter and can be easily seen with binoculars or a small telescope, especially if you can get away from bright city lights. The comet will be directly below the Moon, and to the right of Jupiter, but you have to be quick, as its altitude drops to less than 10 degrees an hour after sunset and then sets an hour later. So you'll need to have a clear view of the horizon, and look for it as twilight ends. If you want to catch this comet, do it soon, because it will be too close to the Sun in the sky to be observed after mid-April, and later when it reaches its closest point to Earth, it will be on its way outward from the Sun and getting fainter.

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2024 total solar eclipse

There's a total solar eclipse on the way, which is kind of important. We've been really lucky to see two total eclipses across a wide swath of the United States recently, the first in 2017, and now on April 8, 2024. The next time such an eclipse will cross the United States is 21 years from now. If you live in or near the path of totality, or you travel there to experience the eclipse, you are in for an amazing experience.

NASA map of the 2024 total solar eclipse in the United States

A total solar eclipse will be visible along a narrow path stretching from Texas to Maine on April 8, 2024. A partial solar eclipse will be visible in all 48 contiguous US states. Image credit: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio/Mikala Garrison; Eclipse calculations by Ernie Wright, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

But what if you're not able to experience a total eclipse in person? What can you expect, and how can you still enjoy it? Well for starters, NASA covered it live online, from multiple locations, as the moon's shadow moves across the country. Join us to view the total eclipse online, whatever your plans are.

If you are anywhere in the United States outside the scope of the total eclipse, you will still experience a partial solar eclipse. The amount of sun the moon will cover at maximum eclipse depends on how far you are from the path of totality.

When observing a partial eclipse, you will still need to use specialized eye protection, such as eclipse glasses, a pinhole projector, or a telescope with a solar filter. One of the easiest ways is what most of us have in our kitchen – a regular colander. These are excellent pinhole cameras that display the eclipse on Earth. Except that, sun flakes creeping through tree leaves do something very similar. It's also interesting to note the strange way in which sunlight dims during an eclipse, especially in places where the Moon covers 80% or more of the Sun's disk.

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NASA has a range of eclipse resources to help you prepare for this amazing celestial event. There is information about safe viewing, citizen science opportunities, and you'll also find an “Eclipse Explorer,” where you can find eclipse details for your specific zip code.

From wherever you watch, a solar eclipse is a spectacular event. So watch safely, and join the live stream online, because it's an event you definitely don't want to miss.

Below are the moon phases for April.

Moon phases April 2024

Moon phases for April 2024. Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech