Our Friendly Skies - April 2012

April 02, 2012|By ROD MARTIN and ANDY SMETZER
  • The All-Sky Chart for April 2012
Tristate Astronomers

The annual spring Antietam Battlefield Public Star Party will be held April 27 and 28 from dusk to around 10 or 11 p.m. if the sky is clear.  A dozen or more scopes will be set up to help you enjoy the spring night sky. This is a good opportunity for you to see Saturn and its rings, lunar craters, and other deep space objects.

Admission is free, and the telescopes will be set up on the western side of the Visitors’ Center. There will also be laser guided sky tours.

April brings into view some of the brighter stars of various seasons.  We are between spring and summer, so we see early summer stars in the east, lingering winter stars in the west, and spring stars in the south.

Turn to face the west, the direction of sunset.  You will notice the bright planets Jupiter and Venus, and the rectangle and belt of Orion.  It is a landmark of four bright stars with three crossing its center.

Turn completely around behind you to face the east.  The brightest summer stars are rising in that direction with blue Vega leading the way in Lyra.  It is the beginning of the Summer Triangle.
Make a quarter turn to your right to face the south.  High in the south is the backward question mark that resembles the head of Leo the Lion.  Nearby is the orange-red Mars.

Behind you in the north is the Big Dipper. It is high in the north with its handle pointing toward the east. The Pointer stars point straight down toward Polaris, the North Star.
Evening Planets

VENUS is the very bright in the western sky.  At -4.7 magnitude, it is brighter than any nighttime star or other planet.  It is high in the west and sets about four hours after the sun early in April and about three and one half hours at the end of the month. Use binoculars early in April to watch Venus skirt the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters.
JUPITER is bright in the southwest after sunset.  This is the last good month to see Jupiter in the evening for a while as it disappears into the western twilight.  Early in April, it is about halfway between Venus and the horizon.
MARS is visible most of the night. It is becoming slightly less bright as Earth begins to speed away on our faster orbit around the sun.  It is near Regulus in Leo the Lion.
All Night Planet

SATURN reaches opposition on April 15.  Then it will rise around sunset and set around sunrise and be visible all night.  It is in the constellation Virgo near the star Spica. Spica is blue, Saturn is cream color.  Through binoculars Saturn may look more oval than round due to the 15-degree tilt of the rings. A telescope will reveal the beautiful ring system.
Morning Planet

MERCURY has a poor morning appearance this month, becoming barely visible in the east before sunrise late in the month.
Lyrid Meteor Shower

The Lyrid Meteor Shower peaks the night of April 21-22.  This is a favorable time, since the moon is new at that time.  Meteors from this stream are active from April 16 to 25.  These are swift and sometimes bright meteors.  There is an occasional fireball associated with this shower.
On April 1, sunrise was at 6:54 a.m. and sunset at 7:35 p.m., for 12 hours and 41 minutes of daylight.  That increases to sunrise at 6:12 a.m. and sunset at 8:04 p.m., for 13 hours and 52 minutes of daylight by April 30.
The sun enters the constellation Aries the Ram from Pisces the Fish on April 18.  The change is caused by Earth’s revolution around the sun. The sun seems to line up with distant background stars from our view from Earth, so the sky changes by seasons and months.
The full moon is April 6, last quarter on April 13, new on April 21, and first quarter on April 29.
This month’s full moon determines the date of Easter in our calendar.  Easter is basically the first Sunday after the first full moon, which is on or after the first day of spring, defined as March 21.  Since the first full moon is April 6, the following Sunday is Easter, that’s April 8.
The monthly meeting of the Tristate Astronomers is held at 7:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the Brish Planetarium of the Washington County Public Schools on Commonwealth Avenue in Hagerstown.
For the public star party information and poster, astronomy information, meeting information, and outreach schedule visit the Tristate Astronomers’ website at

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