Our Friendly Skies

April 11, 2007

By Rod Martin, Planetarium Resource Teacher and Andy Smetzer, Tristate Astronomers

Visible Evening Planets

VENUS is very high in the west.

SATURN is high in the south in Leo.

Visible Morning Planets

JUPITER rises after midnight and is high in the south at sunrise.

MARS is low in the eastern twilight.

Antietam Battlefield public star party

Visit the Antietam Battlefield on the nights of April 20 and 21 for the annual Tristate Astronomers Spring Public Star Party. Stop by after dusk to look at objects through their telescopes. This event is free of charge. It will be canceled if the weather is cloudy.


Start your evening sky tour with the brightest object in the nighttime sky besides the moon. That is Venus. The planet sets about three-and-a-half hours after the sun in the west. At magnitude -4, Venus is about 16 times brighter than the brightest nighttime star, Sirius, which is not far away in the southwest.

This month, Venus travels through the constellation Taurus the Bull. On April 11 and 12, Venus is about three degrees (six moon widths) south of the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. It then travels across the bull's back toward the "V" shaped face of Taurus with the orange star Aldebaran. It passes that area on April 19. The crescent moon is nearby on the 19th, making a beautiful sight.

Saturn is high in the south in front of the nose of Leo the Lion. The head of the lion is shaped like a backwards question mark with the bright star Regulus at its base. Saturn and Regulus make a fine couple with Saturn slightly brighter and farther west (right).

The morning sky has Jupiter. It's that bright star visible in the morning twilight in the south as you head off to work. It rises around midnight and is bright at -2.3 magnitude. It is in the constellation Ophiuchus above the star Aldebaran in Scorpius. Binoculars may display the four larger satellites of the over sixty which orbit the planet.

Mars is low and faint. It rises about two hours before the sun at the beginning of twilight. The moon passes within a half degree of Mars on April 14.

The Lyrid meteors peak on the morning of April 22. They often leave bright trails behind and can be very bright. Expect up to 15 or 20 per hour after the moon sets.

Sun and moon

April has Easter this year. The date of Easter changes each year. It is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

This year, the equinox was March 20 (however, for determining Easter it is always the 21st). The next full moon was April 2, and the following Sunday is April 8, Easter.

This month, the moon was full on April 2 and reaches last quarter on April 10, new on April 17 and first quarter on April 24.

On April 1, the sun rose at 6:56 a.m. and set at 7:35 p.m., for daylight of 12 hours and 39 minutes. By April 30, the sun rises at 6:13 a.m. and sets at 8:04 p.m. and has daylight of 13 hours and 51 minutes.

Brish Planetarium/Tristate Astronomers

The public planetarium program is "StarDate: Ancient Horizons." Learn about the astronomy, pyramids, and beliefs the ancient Egyptians held regarding the sky. Hear about the importance of the constellations Orion and Draco, and the stars Sirius and Thuban.

The program will be held each Tuesday in April that schools are in session. The program begins promptly at 7 p.m. Admission fees are $3 for adults, $2 for children and students, and free for senior citizens with the WCPS Gold Card .

Go to to download or listen to "Skylights," the new planetarium podcast. Provided by Antietam Cable and The Herald-Mail, monthly sky tours can be downloaded to help you find your way across the night sky.

The April 18 Tristate Astronomers meeting will feature special guest speakers Gus Johnson and Steve Vincent from the Cumberland Astronomy Club (CAC) in LaVale, Md.

Johnson will be sharing some of his amazing astrophotography and techniques with us. Johnson also studies constellations and is writing a book. He is a member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) and is a recipient of the AAVSO Nova/SuperNova Award for his discovery of Supernova NGC 4321 in M100 on April 19, 1979.

Vincent is president of CAC and will be discussing some of the club's activities and events, as well as an interesting contest they have developed.

Please join us for this exciting presentation at 7:30 p.m. April 18 at the William Brish Planetarium in Hagerstown.

For more information about the planetarium and Tristate Astronomers, visit their Web sites through and navigate to the planetarium's page.

To contact the planetarium, send e-mails to

The Herald-Mail Articles