April, our first full month of spring. After a long winter, it sounds good! We are now past the first day of spring, and Earth’s northern hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun. Day length during April will increase by almost an hour and a half. At the start of the month, sunrise comes at 6:45 a.m., and drops back to 5:54 a.m. by the end of April. Sunset jumps from 7:35 p.m. on April 1, to 8:13 p.m. at the end of April. That means nights are shorter for stargazing, but they should start getting more comfortable as temperatures warm.
Our largest planet, Jupiter, draws closest to Earth on April 7. On that date it will be in “opposition,” which simply means it will be opposite the Sun in our sky. That means it will rise at sunset, be in the sky all night, and it will set at about sunrise. Look for Jupiter low in the southeastern sky, just above the bright star Spica. Jupiter will be much brighter, outshining all the stars in the evening sky.
The last couple of months I have mentioned Venus as being prominent in the evening sky. In April, you’ll find it in the morning sky. Earth’s near-twin is between the Earth and the Sun. As we see it, Venus has passed between the Earth and the Sun, and now appears on the “other side” of the Sun, from our vantage point. The picture with this article should help.
On April 1, the Moon will be a pretty crescent high in the southwest after dark. It will be above the head of Orion, the hunter, a good time to locate this bright winter constellation. On April 6, the now nearly-full Moon will be right below Regulus, the brightest star in Leo. Full Moon will be on April 10, with the Moon just above bright Jupiter. On April 16, the Moon will be just above Saturn, in the early morning sky. On April 23, look for the thin crescent Moon next to Venus in the morning sky. New Moon will follow on April 26, and the Moon will rejoin the evening sky for the rest of the month.
Look for elusive Mercury low in the west after sunset, during the first week of April. Mars is there too, low in the west. The red planet will be below the Pleiades star cluster in early April. Mars will appear as a fairly bright star, about as bright as the stars in the belt of Orion.
Early April will present another good time to view the International Space Station after sunset. Bright passes will occur on April 2 (8:03 p.m.), April 6 (9:23 p.m.), April 10 (9:05 p.m.) and April 11 (8:13 p.m.). For more, visit Heavens-above.com online, and enter your location information.
April evenings find the winter constellation Orion setting in the west, Leo the Lion due south, and Hercules, Bootes, and Virgo rising in the east. Jupiter will be in Virgo, helping you to locate the constellation.
Virgo is faint except for Spica. Bootes is dominated by the bright star Arcturus. Both Bootes and Hercules will be below the Big Dipper in the eastern evening sky.
Between Bootes is the constellation Coma Berenices, “Berenices Hair”. The constellation name is based on a myth about Queen Berenice II of Egypt. A cloudy area in the constellation, made up of faint stars, is the Queen’s tresses, thrown into the sky. The individual stars are difficult to see, but the overall light from the cluster is noticeable.
Enjoy April skies!