Welcome to April, our first full month of spring. As I write this in mid-March, with still over two feet of snow here in Trout Lake, spring sounds pretty nice.
April usually brings a greater chance of clear weather than the winter months, even if darkness comes later. Early in the month we’ll have nice dark skies, with new Moon coming on April 5.
It is always fun to follow the Moon as it crosses from night to night. On April 1, look for bright Venus at dawn, in the southeast. You may be able to detect the faint crescent Moon to the right of Venus. No fooling. On April 8, look for the thin crescent Moon in the western evening sky, and find the planet Mars just above and to the right of the Moon (about the 1 o’clock position). The bright star Aldebaran will be above and to the left of the Moon. On April 9, the Moon will have moved above Aldebaran. On April 14, the now gibbous Moon will lie just above the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo, and on April 18 the Moon will lie to the left of Spica, the brightest star in the dim constellation Virgo. Full Moon comes on April 19. On the morning of April 23, you’ll find the Moon very close to Jupiter, so close that you may be able to see them both at the same time in a binocular view. On April 25, the Moon will be just to the right of Saturn.
Venus is difficult to miss in the morning sky, as it is the brightest object in the night sky other than the Moon. Venus will have a companion in April, the planet Mercury. Look for Mercury to the left of Venus, before sunrise. Mercury is not nearly as bright as Venus and will be a bit lower in the sky. Mercury will be brighter than most stars, but can still be difficult to see in the morning twilight. Our innermost planet never strays far from the Sun and can be elusive. Many have never seen it.
Mars is the only bright planet in the evening sky and will be visible all month. It will be easy to find on April 1 and 2, as it will be located just to the left of the Pleiades, the bright star cluster in the constellation Taurus. We are growing farther away from Mars; the red planet is now farther from us than we are from the Sun. Our next close encounter with Mars will not be until fall of 2020.
April is the month of the Lyrid meteor shower. The shower peaks the night of April 22-23. Alas, this year an almost-full Moon will “wash out” dim meteors, making this not the best of years for the shower.
Early April will be a good time to view the Zodiacal light, which I’ve mentioned before in this column. You’ll need a dark sky, and a good view to the west after dark. The light, caused by sunlight reflecting from dust particles in our orbital path, is seen as a faint glow in the western sky, once the sky gets totally dark.
It will extend up to about the location of the Pleiades in the western sky. Don’t confuse it with the earlier glow of twilight, or the light pollution from the Portland/Vancouver area low in the west. April brings a piece of history to the State of Washington, something that some of you may be interested in. The Apollo 11 Moon Mission’s Command Module, the capsule that carried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon and back, will be at Seattle’s Museum of flight from April 13 until early September.
This July will be the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing. Don’t miss it, I plan to make the trip for a visit!