Last modified: Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Venus visible in April even before sunset
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 28, 2007
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As the sky darkens in early evening during April, the first thing to catch your eye will be bright Venus, gleaming large and white in the west about a third of the way from the horizon to straight overhead.
Venus at dusk is one of the sky's prettiest sights. The brilliant planet will be visible even before sunset if you mark the place where it appears one night using a nearby tree or other object as a reference point. Then look again slightly higher the next night about a half hour before sunset and see if you can spot Venus in daylight.
Venus and the Pleiades star cluster will have an especially beautiful encounter in the west on April 11. Binoculars will reveal this spectacle as the planet passes just below the famous Seven Sisters.
The Pleiades (pronounced PLEE-ah-deez) are lovely by themselves, and on a clear night they can be seen with the unaided eye in the constellation Taurus the Bull. A photograph of the Pleiades can be seen at http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap021201.html and at other Web sites as well.
Known prehistorically, the Pleiades were called the Seven Sisters in Greek mythology and other Western legends. Many people in other parts of the world have stories about them as well. They are identified as a group of women in many cultures, from Australian Aborigine to Native American.
Saturn will be high in the south as darkness falls on April evenings, one of the first "stars" to appear. The bright yellow planet will still be a fine sight in any telescope. It will be visible much of the night in the constellation Leo the Lion, to the right (west) of Leo's brightest star, Regulus. Saturn's famous rings will begin closing soon and won't be this open again for five years.
Jupiter will rise around 1 a.m. at the beginning of April and two hours earlier by month's end. Wait until the brilliant white object is high in the southern sky and then use binoculars to see its four largest moons, which Galileo discovered with one of the first telescopes. These tiny bits of white light are strung out in a straight line on both sides of Jupiter, and they seem to slide back and forth along the line from one night to the next as they orbit the planet. You may need to steady your binoculars by resting your elbows on a surface to keep the image from wobbling. The only times you won't see all four moons are when one or more are crossing in front of the planet or behind it.
Mars will be very low in the east-southeast before sunrise, difficult to see in the brightening sky, as it has been since January.
Mercury will be lost in the glow of dawn during April for most observers in the Northern Hemisphere. Those in the Southern Hemisphere will be able to see the small planet shining below Mars in early morning twilight for the first half of the month.
The Lyrid meteor shower will peak on the night of April 21-22. About 20 Lyrids per hour are normally visible after midnight. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but they will seem to come from a point called the radiant in the constellation Lyra the Harp, which gives the shower its name. Lyra's bright white star Vega will be almost at the radiant, and the meteor count should be highest when Vega is well above the eastern horizon, beginning around midnight local time in the Northern Hemisphere and lasting the rest of the night. The later the hour, the more meteors there will be.
A trio of bright white stars called the Summer Triangle is coming into view in the Northern Hemisphere, with Vega the first to rise each night in the east and leading the way high across the sky. The other stars are Altair in the constellation Aquila the Eagle to the south and Deneb in the constellation Cygnus the Swan to the north. When you are looking from Deneb to Altair, you are also looking at the Milky Way, though it is usually obscured by city lights. If you find a place that's dark enough for you to see the Milky Way, you'll also see a lot more meteors and other celestial objects from there. A photograph of the Summer Triangle can be seen at http://www.allthesky.com/various/sumtri.html. Click on the photo to enlarge it. If you have trouble picking out the three brightest stars among all the others shown, click on "labels on/off" to identify them.
The moon will be full on April 2, at third quarter on April 10, new on April 17 and at first quarter on April 24.