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Welcome to Observing With Webb, where the armchair astronomer figures out what they’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what they should check out next. Don’t forget to check out my Podbean page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter feed.
All five naked eye planets are visible at some point in April, temperatures get warmer, and the Lyrid Meteor Shower might put on a display.
PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye
Planets you can see around Sunset – Mercury (W – first week), Mars (W)
Planets you can see throughout the night – Jupiter (EàW)
Planets you can see in the Morning – Jupiter (W), Saturn (S), Venus (E) Mercury (E – last week)
Mercury – If you’re out for the first week of April around sunset, you can catch Mercury’s best apparition of the year. Look West and find the bright point less than 15˚ above the horizon. Each day it gets lower, is not visible for the next two weeks, and then reappears very low in the sunrise sky before 6:05am if you’re good.
Venus – Just barely visible above the horizon at the beginning of the month, Venus gets higher and higher each morning, until it’s almost 20˚ above the horizon at the end of April. Look East before sunrise. Use binoculars to see its crescent shape: large and thin on the 1st, smaller but thicker on the 30th.
Mars – Look W after sunset and Mars will be the ruddy red object south of Taurus in the beginning of the month, and in between Taurus and the Pleiades at the end of the month.
Saturn – Rises around 1am in the SE. Look S in the mornings before sunrise. It will only be about 25˚ above the horizon, much brighter than anything else around it, above Sagittarius.
Jupiter – Great month for it, as it reaches opposition on the 7th, where you can see it from sunset to sunrise. If you’re looking for Jupiter before going to bed, it rises in the East 45 minutes after sunset (7:30pm) at the beginning of the month and is already 30˚ up in the SE at sunset by the end of the month. Just look for the very bright object in the SE after sunset. If you’re staying up late, Jupiter will be in the South at midnight, and in the WSW around sunrise, always hanging out around Spica, the brightest star in Virgo.
First Quarter Moon – 3rd (Visible until midnight)
10th – Close Encounter – Moon, Jupiter – Look E after sunset or SW before sunrise. The Moon and Jupiter will be just 3˚apart.
Full Moon – 11th (Visible all night)
16th – 17th – Close Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Look SE after 1am or South before sunrise (6:30am). Saturn will be the very bright point 5˚ below and left of the waning gibbous Moon on the 16th and 7˚ to right of the Moon on the 17th
Last Quarter Moon – 19th (Visible from midnight into the morning)
22nd – LYRID METEOR SHOWER – Not the strongest shower, at only 10-20 meteors per hour, but the Moon will be a thick crescent, so natural light pollution won’t be an issue. Look North in general after 11pm and into the morning.
Some advice for watching:
Find a dark location and lie down in a reclining chair or something that insulates you from the ground.
Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear
Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something.
Or find out if your local astronomy club or museum is holding a viewing party.
23rd – Close Encounter – Moon, Venus – Get up before sunrise (6:15am) and find a very thin crescent Moon in the East with Venus 8˚ to the left.
New Moon – 26th (darkest skies)
27th – 28th – Close Encounter – Moon, Mars – Sunset is right around 8pm. If you have a clear view of the western horizon, you should be able to catch a nice crescent Moon just 8˚below Mars on the 27th before 9pm, and 10˚ up and to the left of Mars on the 28th.
CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb) Look straight up and you'll see...
After Sunset (sunset is around 7:30-8:00pm) – Cancer, Leo, Lynx, Ursa Major’s legs - Extra Challenge! Find M44 in the middle of Cancer – an open cluster of stars also known as the Beehive Cluster. You may be able to see it as a small fuzzy patch with your naked eye if you have very dark skies. However, with a pair of binoculars or a telescope on low power, it will look like a hive of bees in the distance, hence its nickname.
Between Sunset and Midnight – Leo, Leo Minor, Ursa Major’s legs
Midnight – Canes Venatici, Coma Berenices are closer to the Zenith (the point straight above you), but Ursa Major, Leo, and Bootes make a nice but bigger triangle around it.
Early Morning – Hercules, Lyra, Cygnus – These are the Summer constellations, and since they are starting to rise in the morning now, that means that summer is on its way.
GENERAL CONSTELLATION FINDING TIPS:
Winter constellations: LAST CHANCE FOR THE WINTER CONSTELLATIONS! Orion is still easy to spot as he is directly in the SW after sunset. You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations, for the last time until the fall.
Using Orion: Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion’s belt in the Southwest. If you draw a line from the left star to the right star and keep going right about 20 degrees (about 2 fists at arm’s length) until you reach another very bright star, you will have reached the star Aldebaran in Taurus (the V). Follow that line a little more (about another fist) and you’ll find the Pleiades.
If you start at his belt again, but instead go the opposite way and draw a line from the right star in Orion’s belt to the left star, and keep going left about 20 degrees (2 fists again), you’ll come to the brightest star in the sky – Sirius – part of Canis Major.
Above these three constellations are Gemini and Auriga. The brightest stars in each of these constellations form a circle in the sky. Going clockwise - Aldebaron (Taurus) – Rigel (Orion – bottom right foot) – Sirius (Canis Major) – Procyon (Canis Minor) – Castor & Pollux (Gemini) – Capella (Auriga). It makes for great stargazing in the winter sky.
Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.