What’s Up in the Sky – April, 2012
By Peter Burkey
Planets Continue to Dazzle This Month
With warm evenings, clear skies, and two bright planets to watch, March has been a tough act to follow. But April offers its share of celestial sights as well beginning right at the start of the month.
If you have been following the planets in the west after sunset, then you are well aware of brilliant Venus dominating that part of the sky. Although its partner for the past several weeks, Jupiter, gets lower in the sky as the month progresses, Venus will continue to climb for about three weeks. On the 2nd and 3rd of April, use binoculars or a small telescope to observe the planet as it passes close to a familiar star cluster, the Pleiades. They will be much closer to each other than Venus and Jupiter were two weeks ago.
Two other planets are well placed for viewing this month – Mars and Saturn – and you can use the Moon to help you find them. On April 3rd, look high in the southeast for an almost-full Moon forming a narrow triangle with two “stars” above it. On the right is the star Regulus in the constellation Leo, the Lion. On the left and shining somewhat more brightly is the planet Mars. Then on the 6th with the Moon lower and farther to the east, you can find Saturn just to its left. Once you have these two planets located, you can view them each night all month. Both are excellent targets for telescopes.
The Lyrid meteor shower will peak on the night of April 21 – 22 with no moonlight interfering. Best viewed after midnight, this is usually a modest shower with only about twelve meteors visible per hour. However, meteor showers can be unpredictable and in 1801 a newspaper in Richmond, VA, reported meteors in such abundance that they resembled a “shower of sky rockets”.
The next night, the 22nd, find a clear view of the western horizon 45 minutes after sunset and look for Jupiter very close to the horizon. Use binoculars to see if you can spot a very thin crescent Moon just above the planet. On the 23rd the Moon will be right next to the Pleiades and on the 24th just to the left of Venus, all lovely sights and good photo ops.
This month in history:
April 2: First photograph of Sun taken – 1845
April 5: Pioneer 11 launched – 1973
April 12: Yuri Gagarin becomes first human in space – 1961
April 17: Apollo 13 returns to Earth – 1970
April 25: Deployment of Hubble Space Telescope – 1990
April 28: Eugene Shoemaker is born – 1928