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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Planet-spotting in April

Posted on April 02 2010 at 12:43:30 0 comments

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

April, and it’s starting to get dark really late now. However, more planets are on view now than any other time this year.

Venus is visible right after sunset, before it gets dark, from about seven in the evening till eight. It will be very low in the sky, setting not long after the Sun. You will need a good view of the horizon (I like to head to Scarfield Hill), just north of west.

Don’t worry, you won’t need a compass, it’s right where the Sun sets. Venus is very easy to spot; thanks to its covering of dense clouds, it is the brightest object in the sky (after the Sun and Moon, of course).

If you catch it before the 11th of the month, you might spot the tiny planet Mercury, very close, just to the right. Mercury is not as bright and you will need a mist free night and very good eyesight to see it. I would recommend using binoculars, any sort will do but don’t point them anywhere near this part of the sky until the Sun has completely gone!

Once you have located Mercury, you may be able to spot it without the “bins”. From the 12th, it moves away from Venus and will be too close to the Sun to see after about the 16th. The 16th will, however, be a good day to spot a very thin crescent Moon, very close to Venus.

As soon as it gets properly dark, Mars is still visible, high in the sky but now drifting slightly west of south. It is still the brightest object in this part of the sky and unmistakable due to its very orange colouring.

At the start of the month, it is quite close to the bright stars Castor and Pollux, the heads of the Gemini twins, but watch Mars drift, day by day, across the faint constellation of Cancer, to end up close to the reversed question mark that is the head of Leo, by the 30th.

After locating Mars and, to the left, Leo, look further left and lower by the same amount again and there is the beautiful planet Saturn. Again, very distinctive and as bright as the brightest stars, it is easy to spot. You may recall that 12 months ago, Saturn was right below the constellation of Leo but is now a little distance away, demonstrating just how long it takes to orbit the Sun. In fact a Saturn “year” is more than 29 Earth years.

On the last few days of the month, early risers might spot Jupiter, just above the eastern horizon, in the dawn twilight a little after five in the morning. Only visible for perhaps 20 minutes, it would maximise your planet count, although I don’t think you’ll find me up Scarfield Hill at that time!

Sadly, April sees the end of the huge constellation of Orion and the bright star Sirius, neither being visible by the 30th.

There is a shuttle launch due on the 5th, however, so do keep an eye on heavens-above.com to see if it is visible over Alvechurch.

We may see an increase in meteors for a few days either side of the 22nd, as the Earth passes through the debris left by comet Thatcher. This meteor shower isn’t expected to be spectacular but it can be unpredictable so may produce some heavenly “fireworks’”. You never know!


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