April 1, 2012
Venus, Mars Top Stargazing Attractions For April
Venus's rendezvous with the Pleiades star cluster and the increasing prominence of Mars in the east-southeast part of the sky mark two of the highlights for stargazers to enjoy during the month of April.
According to Joe Rao of Space.com, Earth's so-called sister planet will be visible near the star cluster known as the Seven Sisters in the west-northwestern part of the sky on Tuesday, April 3.
Venus will pass within a half-degree to the south of the Pleiades that evening, Rao said. The planet, which is approximately 160 times brighter than the star cluster, can be seen to the bottom left of it using binoculars or small telescopes.
There is "nothing else like the Pleiades star cluster in the sky," the Space.com columnist said. "It will, however, be a bit more difficult to see them on Tuesday night, since brilliant Venus with its great brilliance will nearly overpower the star cluster." He said that Venus will be "glowing like a steady white diamond" and in the nights ahead, it will "gradually become a thick crescent while growing larger as it swings around its orbit closer to Earth."
As for Mars, John Stanley of the Arizona Republic reported that stargazers can see the Red Planet by looking east-southeast starting approximately one hour after sunset. He advises those seeking Mars to look for "a bright, distinctly peach-colored 'star.'"
"Mars usually appears as a small, rather indistinct orange blob, sometimes sporting a tiny white icecap at one pole. It's underwhelming, to say the least," Stanley said. "But every so often there are moments of clarity when our atmosphere steadies and Mars seems to snap into focus, revealing delicate dark features across its face."
In terms of other celestial events to keep track of during April, Stanley said that Jupiter will be moving closer to the western horizon as the month advances, and that Saturn will be visible in the southeastern sky for a few hours after the sun goes down.
"Astronomers expect the annual Lyrid meteor shower to reach its peak between 10 p.m. and midnight on Saturday, April 21, although it's likely that you can spot some Lyrids until dawn Sunday, April 22," he added. "The Lyrids appear to radiate out of the constellation Lyra, in the northeastern part of the sky in the late evening in April. However, they may appear in any part of the sky."