BLOOMINGTON, Indiana -- After darkness falls in April, Mars will stand high in the west. The red planet will spend the first week of the month drifting between the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters, a superb sight in binoculars. On April 16, Mars will pass 7 degrees north of the similarly colored red-orange star Aldebaran.
Jupiter will rise in the east after 1 a.m. local time at the beginning of April and two hours earlier by month's end, when Mars will be setting in the west. Jupiter will dominate its part of the sky, increasing in brightness as the month passes. The best time to view it with a telescope will be when it is highest in the south, about an hour before sunrise.
Saturn will clear the horizon around 3 a.m. April 1 and two hours earlier on April 30. Morning twilight will be the best time to observe the yellow planet with a telescope, when it will be 25 degrees high in the south-southeast. Its spectacular rings will be tilted 24 degrees to our line of sight. The planet's largest moon, Titan, shows up in any telescope. It will be south of Saturn on April 2 and 18, and north of the planet on April 10 and 26.
Venus will rise in the east around 5:30 a.m. local time April 1 and a half-hour earlier by month's end. It will be bright enough to stand out in the dawn sky low in the east-southeast.
Mercury will make a low morning appearance in April. For viewers at mid-northern latitudes, the smallest planet will be just 4 degrees above the eastern horizon a half-hour before sunrise on April 11, making it difficult to find in the bright twilight.
The Lyrid meteor shower will peak before dawn April 23. The moon will be just three days past full, so bright moonlight will drown out the fainter meteors. For those watching in North America, about five meteors per hour might 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, 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.
The moon will be new April 5, at first quarter April 12, full on April 19 and at third quarter April 26.