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Star Trak: April 2018

For Immediate Release Mar 30, 2018

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Venus will be the first bright object to appear after sunset in April, gleaming low in the western sky in twilight. Its altitude at sundown will increase from 18 degrees to 24 degrees as the month advances. As darkness falls on April 27, the brilliant white planet will be midway between the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters.

Jupiter will rise in the east-southeast about three hours after sunset at the beginning of the month and a half hour after sunset by month’s end. The best views of the giant planet will be in the early morning hours when it is well above the horizon. Jupiter’s four largest moons will be easy to find with a telescope.

Red-orange Mars and yellow Saturn will be a striking pair just 1.3 degrees apart when they rise together in the east-southeast around 2:15 a.m. EDT at the beginning of April. Mars in its much smaller orbit will rapidly move away from Saturn as the month passes, and they will be 14 degrees apart by month’s end. Mars will almost double in brightness during this time.

Mercury will make its lowest morning appearance of the year at the end of the month. For viewers at mid-northern latitudes it will be just a few degrees above the eastern horizon a half hour before sunrise, making it hard to find in the bright twilight.

Meteor shower

The Lyrid meteor shower will peak before dawn on April 22. The crescent moon will set before then, so viewing conditions should be fine in a clear sky. For those watching in North America, about 18 meteors per hour may be visible.

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 Lyre, 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 up in the south.

Moon phases

The moon will be at third quarter on April 8, new on April 15, at first quarter on April 22 and full on April 29.

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