Monday, April 2, 2018

Look At The Sky: April

The Planets for APRIL 2018:
Mercury - Mercury remains in the bright pre-sunrise skies very near the sun and is not favorably placed for viewing this month - in PISCES

Venus - our brightest planet will remain somewhat stationary as we see it this month, hovering above the western horizon, visible in dark skies about 8 p.m. local time.  Look for a beautiful grouping on around April 20-28 while Venus slowly moves eastward, located about mid-way between the bright naked eye star cluster, HYADES and PLEIADES - in TAURUS.

Mars - Mars is approaching closer by the day now, rising in the east about 2:30 a.m. local time and very close to the bright yellow planet SATURN, located midway between that ringed planet and the distant planet PLUTO to its east.  Mars is getting close enough now that moderate telescopes are detecting Martian clouds and dust and much transient detail on the Red Planet.  At magnitude 0.0 this month, Mars is only very slightly brighter than Saturn, but compare the reddish color.  - in SAGITTARIUS.

Jupiter - Now overhead around 3 p.m. and in the sky all night long, Jupiter rises in the east after midnight  and is high overhead about the time morning dawn breaks.  This is a very favorable time to view Jupiter since it is brightest and closest to Earth during March, April and May; NOTE that Jupiter is at opposition on the evening of April 7.  Jupiter joins SATURN and MARS and distant PLUTO to dominate the evening skies - in LIBRA

Saturn - Rising only an half hour earlier in the low SE skies than MARS (see above), brilliant Saturn is displaying its mighty rings angled toward us magnificently this month. Very low in southern skies, the ringed planet appears very yellow and just to the right (west) of reddish Mars. - in SAGITTARIUS

Uranus - distant planet Uranus is in conjunction with the sun this month and will not be will be later in early summer before it emerges in dawn twilight in the east - in ARIES

Neptune - Our most distant world other than of Pluto, is now rising about  twilight in the east; at magnitude 7.8, it is visible in small telescopes as a star-like object with little or no detail visible.  Look for this planet to be very close to the thin crescent waning moon on April 12 - in PISCES

Pluto - at magnitude 14.2, our most distant planet ( is a planet) will begin to be visible higher in southeastern skies this month, just east of the "teapot" in brilliant MARS and then SATURN.  Rising about 3 a.m. local time at mid-month, the distant world requires a large telescope to view.  - in SAGITTARIUS

Meteor Showers for April 2018

Observe when the moon does not interfere and attempt to observe AFTER midnight for most meteors to be seen!  For April, there are no less than NINE meteor showers, some of which provide for wonderful spring sky shows, provided that the light of the moon does not interfere.  However, as with a months and times during the year, observers should always be aware that new sporadic meteor showers can occur at anytime from seemingly unknown sources and radiants.  NOTE:  one of the most interesting of all meteor showers is the odd “April Fireballs” (see below) which occur this month.

April 4 - Kappa Serpentid Meteors - This is a one-week-duration meteor shower, from April 1 through 7, with somewhat of a mild peak about midway through that period; look for the radiant to rise in the constellation of Serpens about 8 p.m. local time just south of due east and be nearly overhead for observers in southern latitudes of the northern hemisphere at about 2 a.m.  Several meteors per hour should be seen from this minor radiant in normal years, and this year is fair since the moon will be about full and thus hamper most observations of this shower..

April 7 - Delta Draconid Meteors - With no particular peak to speak of, this is one of those “circumpolar” meteor showers for northern hemisphere observers that will be in the sky pretty much all night; it is a very long duration shower from late March until about April 17.  Found only in 1971 in the constellation of Draco, the meteors are conspicuously slow and leave very fine trains in their wakes; to view the most meteors from this now-annual shower, set up about 10 p.m. local time and face somewhat northeast; as the night progresses the meteors will be originating more and more from very high northern skies....thus after midnight direct your sights to nearly directly overhead, the ZENITH.  Note that the moon, slightly less than full and very bright before midnight will hamper observations during the early hours of the night

April 10 - Virginid Meteors - This is the first of THREE meteor showers which appear to emanate from the constellation of VIRGO during the month of April each year.  A two-week display, the meteors can be seen coming from just south of overhead (northern hemisphere) from April 1 through 15 with no definite peak; to differentiate THIS shower from the other two, the radiant is centered at near right ascension 12h 24m / declination 00 degrees.  This year the moon is gibbous and its light will interfere all night, so this will be an unfavorable year for this meteor shower..

April 14 - THE APRIL FIREBALLS - Doc's Favorite of All Meteor Showers.....a good year for this interesting shower in early evening hours prior to the rising of the last quarter moon around midnight.  Get out early...., but then again being bright fireballs, these can be seen in spite of moonlight or even city lights!   As its name suggests, this can sometimes be a pretty spectacular display if the conditions are right and the skies are dark;  however, during times of the new moon - as it was in 2010 - , these huge and bright fireballs come streaking clearly across our crisp and clear springtime skies along with countless fainter meteors that are associated with no identified meteor swarm.  This unusual display lasts for the last two full weeks of April....there is no known radiant or seeming point of origin for this curious group, and they can be seen originating from just about any part of the dark night sky.  They likewise are not - or appear to not be - associated with any other known major or minor meteor shower group.  The April Fireballs are characterized by tremendously bright meteors, nearly all of which demonstrate beautiful and long-lasting trails through the sky.   Even with the bright moon however, with their brightness, the light should not interfere for observing these very spectacular meteors.  Always look for the April Fireballs late in the night, preferably after midnight.   NOTE:  several of these renegade meteors have been known to reach the ground as meteorites!  Heads UP!

April 17 - Sigma Leonid Meteors - The Sigma Leonids are no longer “in” Leo....they have migrated it seems into Virgo to become one of our three Virgo showers for April.  The radiant is up early, just due south of overhead about 9:30 p.m. local time; this is a minor shower with only a few members seen on dark nights per hour.  The last quarter moon will be absent from the sky until about 2 a.m. so it should not interfere with early observations of this shower

April 22 - The Lyrid Meteor Shower - Other than some spectacular fireworks from the April Fireballs (see above), this is April’s most dependable meteor showers and typically one of the best of each year; this year the new moon will not interfere with any observing of meteors after midnight, typically the best time to view the greatest number of Lyrids.  This shower is comprised of cometary debris from Comet Thatcher, a very famous comet last seen in 1861.  Although this associated comet was not identified until only 100 or so years ago, this meteor shower from its demise is one of the oldest known on record, being recorded by the ancient Chinese stargazers first in 687 B.C.  As with many meteor showers - and the comets they come from - this one seems to be waning with every encounter with the earth however.  It is no longer the sky spectacle as recorded by those earliest sky watchers.  Look for the meteors to emanate from a point on the Hercules-Lyra border, very near the brilliant blue-white star Vega.  The radiant rises about 7:30 p.m. local time, but the best time to see the most meteors each year is always around midnight when the radiant is nearly directly overhead at midnight for northern hemisphere observers.

April 25 Mu Virginid Meteors - This is our third of three meteor showers within the constellation of Virgo for the month of April, and is south of overhead about 1 a.m. local time, far in the eastern realms of the large Virgo constellation; it takes dark, moonless skies to see the few  - only about 7 per hour - meteors from this annual minor display.  The moon will not interfere with this month's observation of this meteor shower.

April 23 - Grigg-Skjellerup Meteors - Here is an oddity just by its name...the only annual meteor shower known by the comet from which the meteoroid cloud came!  It also is unique in that it is a “localized” meteor shower, visible only in certain parts of the world, but not others, on each pass.  For example, there was a brilliant display of these meteors seen in New Zealand in 1977....but not one in the United States.  If visible, they will be seen early in the evening, originating south of overhead.  At right ascension 07h 48m / declination -45 degrees, these will appear to be coming literally from the south horizon for northern hemisphere observers, perhaps the only way to differentiate them from the other meteors showers in the same direction of sky each April.  This year is a great year for this unusual meteor shower since the moon will not interfere with your dark skies after it sets around 11 p.m.

April 28 - Alpha Bootid Meteors - Coming from a point very near the bright “alpha star” Capella in the constellation of Bootes, this radiant is in the sky from dusk until dawn, and nearly overhead at about 1 a.m.  Look for these meteors to be few, BUT those that are seen are typically very fine fireballs moving slowly across the sky and leaving beautiful “smoky trails” behind them.  Observers will NOT be hampered by moonlight for this shower in 2018 - the radiant rises about 3-4 hours after sunset, and the moon will be nearly full and dominating the skies during this meteor shower.

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