Our Friendly Skies for April

March 30, 2009|By ROD MARTIN and ANDY SMETZE, Tristate Astronomers

Visible evening planets

Saturn is visible all night.

Mercury may be visible after sunset late in the month.

Visible morning planets

Venus is very bright in the east just before sunrise.

Jupiter is bright in the southeast before sunrise.

Mars rises less than an hour before the Sun.

For more information about the visible evening planets and nighttime sky, download the planetarium's podcast "Skylights" from

Solar system

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy and each month we are reminded of the contribution of Galileo and his telescope to astronomy.

His observations of Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, the Sun, and Moon helped revolutionize our view of the universe 400 years ago.

One of his important observations included Saturn. It is called the Ring Planet because of its intricate system of rings. Galileo described Saturn as a planet with "ears." In his time, it should have been spherical, but his observations showed otherwise.


Saturn is visible all night. It is in the constellation Leo the Lion all year. At +0.6 magnitude, Saturn looks like a bright star, brighter though than nearby Regulus. The rings are now opening more, so it should be a little brighter.

Mercury enters our evening sky late this month. It reaches greatest eastern elongation for the Sun on April 26 at -0.4 magnitude. Look for it about 10 degrees above the horizon a half hour after sunset.

Venus had been our bright "evening star" most of the winter. Last month, it passed between the Earth and Sun. Now it is the bright "morning star." Look for its brilliance an hour before sunrise early in April and almost two hours before the Sun late in the month.

Galileo's observations of Venus was evidence that the Earth revolved around the Sun as Copernicus had proposed. When you look at Venus this month, you can notice what Galileo did, namely phases. This month you should see a very thin crescent. Use binoculars or a small telescope for the best views.

Jupiter at -2.1 magnitude, becomes higher this month. Look for it higher in the southeast before sunrise. Early risers may now start getting good telescopic views of the planet.

Mars moves from Aquarius to Pisces this month passing near Venus on April 24. It is still not very high or bright.

With luck, you will see a good display of meteors this month. The Lyrid meteor shower peaks on April 22 with some visible from April 16 to 25. These are usually very bright and fast with some fireballs. Ten to 20 may be seen each hour after midnight. This is a very favorable year for these meteors since the Moon is at the waning crescent phase.

Sun and Moon

On April 1, the Sun rises at 6:55, sets at 7:35 for 12 hours and 40 minutes of daylight. By April 30, the Sun rises at 6:13, sets at 8:04 for 13 hours and 51 minutes of daylight.

The Sun enters the astronomical boundaries of Aries from Pisces on April 18.

The Moon reaches first quarter on April 2, full on April 9, which is called the Egg Moon, last quarter on April 17, and new on April 24.

Brish Planetarium

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. Four-hundred years ago, Galileo first pointed his telescope toward the sky and revolutionized astronomy. His observations helped provide the proofs that the Earth revolved around the Sun instead of the other way.

The IYA is designed to promote awareness of astronomy and its importance to our society. The Tristate Astronomers are offering a wonderful opportunity for you to explore the sky through telescopes on April 17 and 18. Those are the nights of the Antietam Battlefield Public Star Party. There is no charge, just stop by between dusk and 10 p.m. to look through a variety of telescopes.

The current public planetarium program is "Lunar Odyssey." This program talks about the Moon from a fictional, future trip to our satellite. History, exploration and the science of the Moon are included.

Programs are held Tuesday evenings at 7 through April when schools are in session. 

Admission fees are $3 for adults, $2 for children and students, and senior citizens with a WCPS gold card are free.

The Tristate Astronomers meet monthly in the planetarium. For more information about schedules and special events for the club, go to

The planetarium is at the Central Offices of the Washington County Public Schools on Commonwealth Avenue off Frederick Street in Hagerstown. The planetarium's Web site is and the phone number is 301-766-2898.

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