Star Trak: April 2017

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, will be visible throughout the night in April. It will reach opposition on April 7, when it will be opposite the sun in our sky and therefore closest to Earth, at its biggest and brightest for the year.

It will be 25 times brighter than the nearby star Spica in the constellation Virgo. Jupiter will move away from Spica during April, the gap between them increasing from 6 degrees to 9 degrees. Jupiter’s four largest moons will be easy to find in a telescope.

Mercury was at its highest altitude of the year on April 1 for viewers at mid-northern latitudes. It was 12 degrees high in the west a half-hour after sunset, but this display won’t last long. By April 10, the little planet will be hard to find as it sinks into the bright twilight. Mercury will disappear from view and cross the face of the sun during April, reappearing at dawn at the end of the month.

Red-orange Mars will be conspicuous above the western horizon as darkness falls during April. It will pass less than 4 degrees south of the Pleiades star cluster on April 19 and 20. Binoculars will show the planet and star cluster in a single field of view for more than 10 days.

Yellow Saturn will rise around 1:30 a.m. local daylight time at the start of April and two hours earlier by month’s end. The best views with a telescope will come when it is highest in the south near the start of twilight. Its ring system will tip 26 degrees to our line of sight.

Saturn's biggest moon, Titan, will show up easily in any telescope. Titan will be due north of Saturn on April 6 and 22 and due south on April 13 and 29. Visit NASA's Cassini website for the latest news and images from the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn.
Venus rose an hour before the sun on April 1 and was 5 degrees above the eastern horizon a half-hour later. By month’s end it will appear 100 minutes before sunrise, standing 13 degrees high a half-hour before sunrise. It will brighten considerably in April.

Meteor shower

The Lyrid meteor shower will peak on the morning of April 22. The crescent moon will not rise until 4 a.m. local daylight time, so viewing conditions should be fine. For those watching in North America, about 18 meteors per hour may be visible in a clear sky.

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 first quarter on April 3, full on April 11, at third quarter on April 19 and new on April 26.

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