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In the News: Planets in the April Sky

Venus may be gone from the evening sky this month, but mighty Jupiter moves in to take its place.

Last month, Venus exited the evening sky in grand fashion, reaching peak brightness during its nightly descent toward the setting sun.  But if you miss Venus, don’t dismay.  By mid-April Venus reappears in the eastern sky just before sunrise.  Earth and Venus are on the same side of the sun right now, accounting for Venus’ speedy transition from the evening to morning sky.  Throughout April our closest neighbor continues climbing above the eastern horizon before dawn.

Even closer to the sun than Venus is Mercury.  The tiny world peaks over the western horizon just after sunset during the first half of April.  Mercury reaches maximum altitude the first few days of April.  That still keeps Mercury low in the sky, making a clear horizon necessary to see this elusive world.   By mid-month, Mercury has descended enough to be washed out by sunlight.  But like Venus, Mercury soon precedes the sun before dawn.

Another planet in the west is our neighbor, Mars.  The red planet sits among the glorious bright stars of winter, as they make a final hurrah before being swept into evening twilight next month.  April’s final 10 days find Mars sliding close to the Pleiades star cluster, whose bluish stars resemble a tiny dipper.  Binoculars may capture both objects simultaneously.  

While gazing westward, look for Orion the Hunter with his pattern of three stars in a row that form the belt.  Also to the left of the belt, look for bluish-white Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.

Jupiter is at opposition this month, which means it is directly opposite the sun from Earth.  It also means Jupiter will be at its brightest and visible all night long, rising in the east as the sun sets in the west.  Start looking for this very bright planet low in the eastern sky this month shortly after sunset. 

Article provided by: Brad Nuest, Space Science Educator

Photo Credit: flickr, Matt Hecht