What’s Up in the Sky – April, 2013
This Month, Things You Can Actually See
Twice. That’s how many times I was able to spot the topic of last month’s column, Comet PANSTARRS. Even knowing just where and when to look and having the help of binoculars, I was barely able to pick it out of the glare and haze. So this month I will try to write about stuff readers actually have a chance of observing.
Cross the comet off the list, as well as Mercury, Venus, and Mars. (Dedicated observers can find Mercury near the eastern horizon 40 minutes before sunrise on April 8. Look to the lower right of the thin crescent Moon). Jupiter and Saturn, though, more than compensate with dazzling displays of their own. In fact, this will be one of the best times to observe Saturn as it is nearly opposite the sun and thus shows us its fully illuminated side all night.
The premier naked-eye sights this month occur one hour after sunset on April 13 and 14. Look toward the west and find the thin crescent Moon. On the 13th, it will be below Jupiter and to the left of the Pleiades. On the 14th, it will be right next to Jupiter in a lovely close encounter.
Then, on the evenings of April 24 and 25, the Moon comes close first to the star Spica on the 24th and then to Saturn on the 25th. Again look an hour after sunset, this time toward the southeast, you will see the nearly full Moon just below each object.
This is the time of year when the winter constellations, such as Taurus and Orion, appear to drift westward night to night, setting nearly two hours earlier my month’s end. In the opposite part of the sky the summer constellations, including Hercules and Cygnus, rise earlier each night and will join Leo to dominate the sky in the coming months.
In fact, I find it interesting this time of year to observe Ursa Major (the “Big Dipper”) and Leo. Face north about 10 p.m. and you will see the Dipper almost overhead and upside down. Now turn facing south and look for a backwards question mark to the right of a triangle of stars, together about the same size as the Dipper. This is Leo, the lion, on his haunches facing west, one of a number of springtime creatures soon to be found up in the sky.
This month in history:
April 1: Comet Hale-Bopp nearest Sun – 1997
April 7: Deployment of Compton Gamma Ray Observatory – 1991
April 12: Yuri Gagarin becomes first human in space – 1961
April 15: Wilbur Wright is born – 1867
April 24: China becomes the fifth nation to launch its own satellite – 1970
April 25: Deployment of Hubble Space Telescope – 1990