April 2012

April 2012 is for naked eye observing, since Venus, Mars, and Jupiter are all up after sunset for the whole month, a meteor shower greets us mid-month, and there are plenty of close encounters.  It wouldn't hurt to bring a camera with you though.


2nd, 3rd - Close Encounter - Venus & Pleiades - Venus will pass right by the Seven Sisters these two nights making this a great opportunity for photographers

3rd - Close Encounter - Moon & Mars - Go out after sunset and find the Gibbous Moon in the SSE.  Mars is about 10˚ (the width of one fist at arm's length) above the Moon.  Look for the reddish object in Leo.  Watch them move toward the West throughout the night and set around 4am.

Full Moon - 6th (Visible all night - East around sunset, West around Sunrise)

7th - Close Encounter - Moon & Saturn - Look to the SE after 10pm and find the Full Moon rising.  Saturn will be the bright object about 7˚ above the Moon.  Spica, Virgo's brightest star, is in the middle between the Moon and Saturn.

Last Quarter Moon - 13th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

New Moon - 21st (darkest skies)

21st - 22nd - LYRID METEOR SHOWER - The Lyrids aren't really a strong meteor shower, but at least it's warmer out than in the Fall (hopefully).  This year is especially good, since the New Moon won't interfere with visibility.  There are typically only 10-20 meteors per hour, so be patient.  The best time to look is midnight on into the morning of the 22nd.  Here's the typical advice for watching a meteor shower:

Find a dark location, and lie down in a reclining chair or swimming pool floaty

Dress in multiple layers and bring hot chocolate

Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear (weather.com has a good map here)

You want to look at the sky as a whole rather than looking at one spot or through a telescope or binoculars.  You never know where in the sky they will be.

But you DO know where they will come from - Lyra!  Look toward Lyra (In the NNE close to the horizon around 10pm, rises throughout the night until sunrise where it will be almost directly above.)  That is where the radiant is - where the meteors will appear to be coming from.  If you trace the meteors' steps back, they should all go to that spot.

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.

The shower is usually active from April 16th to April 25th, but it peaks on the 22nd.  You may see a few stray Lyrids in the days leading up to and after the peak as well.

22nd - Close Encounter - Moon & Jupiter - Look low in the West after sunset.  The thin crescent Moon will be less than 3˚ above Jupiter.  Brilliant for pictures with zoom lenses.

23rd - Close Encounter - Moon & Pleiades - Look to the West after sunset.  The thin crescent Moon will be less than 5˚ to the left of the Pleiades.  Brilliant for pictures with zoom lenses.

24th - Close Encounter - Moon & Venus - Look to the West after sunset and you'll see Venus about 6˚ to the right and up from the crescent Moon.

First Quarter Moon - 29th (Visible until midnight)

30th - Close Encounter - Moon & Mars - Go out after sunset and find the Gibbous Moon in the S.  Mars is about 9˚ (the width of one fist at arm's length) above and to the left of the Moon.  Look for the reddish object in Leo.  Watch them move toward the West throughout the night and set around 3am.

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset -Venus (WSW), Jupiter (W), Mars (SE)

Planets you can see throughout the night - Mars (SEàW), Saturn (EàW)

Planets you can see in the Morning - Saturn (W)

Mercury - Not worth looking for this month

VENUS - Look toward the West after sunset.  From now until May, Venus will be very prominent, then quickly get lower and disappear by the end of May.  If you're looking with your naked eye, it is the brightest object about 30˚ or more (three fist-widths) above the western horizon.  Below the horizon after 10:00pm.  Close to the Moon on the 24th right after sunset toward the West.  If you're looking through a telescope at dusk, you may see it in its half-lit phase in the beginning of the month and more crescent like toward the end of April.

MARS - April is a great time to look at Mars - it's up pretty much all night.  In the SE after sunset, the South later in the night, and West in the very early morning.  Look for the constellation of Leo and look for the reddish hued point of light right in the middle - use a star chart to help.  Close to the Moon on the 3rd and the 30th.

Jupiter - About 30˚ above the Western horizon right at sunset at the beginning of the month, but is just barely above the Western horizon at sunset at the end of the month.  Close to the Moon on the 22nd.  Won't be visible all next month.

SATURN - Rising in the ESE around 9pm and setting in the west around sunrise.  Saturn will be up to 40˚ above the southern horizon at 1am. Near the Moon on the 7th.

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.


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.