April: Two Planets and a Meteor Shower

Two Planets and a Meteor Shower

By Calvin L. Chrisman

April will offer opportunities for planet watchers and will have a meteor shower that is usually fairly small, but on occasion has offered more exciting developments. Saturn will be the big show of the month with Jupiter posing nicely in the evening sky along with the Moon during the middle of the month.

Saturn will be rising in the east shortly after sunset and will be visible all night, reaching its highest point in the sky in the small hours of early morning.  It will be very bright all month as it reaches a point directly opposite the Sun by late in April. If you have access to a telescope, its rings are nicely tilted, making for excellent viewing. Under the right circumstances, you will be able to see the shadow of the rings on the planet. Saturn, like Jupiter, has a number of moons that are visible in small telescopes – six under the right conditions and sixty-two total at last count. Saturn is the second largest planet in our Solar System.

Jupiter, our largest planet, will be rapidly moving into the sunset by the end of the month, but in the meantime is worth a look. It is in the constellation Taurus and can be seen near the bright red star Aldebaran which is the bull’s red eye. On the nights of April 12-14, watch as the waxing crescent Moon passes through Taurus and by Jupiter. Through backyard telescopes, Jupiter has four visible moons and its latest count is sixty-seven total moons.

So, we have two of the three brightest planets to watch. You might ask where is Venus, the brightest of all? Venus, along with Mars is hiding behind the Sun at the moment. It will begin to appear in the west as April progresses, but will be hard to spot in evening twilight. Best wait for May.

If you are looking at the sky early on the morning of April 22nd, you may be treated to a view of some meteors passing overhead. The Lyrid meteor shower will occur on that night. Because the bright gibbous Moon will be in the sky until just before dawn, there will be only a half hour or so window of dark sky to look for meteors. The Lyrid’s have been unpredictable, producing only ten or so meteors per hour. Last year, the count was twenty-five per hour resulting in a meteor every couple of minutes. This shower is less certain than the more predictable Geminids and the Perseids but could offer some interesting sights.

Comet PanSTARRS fizzled a bit during March. It was observed and photographed by some, but was not the sight that many had hoped. There are still positive expectations for Comet ISON which will be in our skies in December. Let’s hope for the best.

Clear Skies!

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