April Skies

Mars continues its western migration appearing high in the western sky just after sunset. The Red Planet’s brightness continues to slowly diminish reaching magnitude +1.4 this month as the orbital separation between Earth and Mars continues to grow.

Venus, having passed conjunction with the Sun, now begins a new appearance as the “evening star” as it peeks above the western horizon just after sunset on the 18th. As the month progresses, brilliant Venus begins a slow but steady climb into the western evening sky. It will not reach its highest evening altitude above the western horizon until well into December. By the 30th of April, it should be fairly easy to spot just above the western horizon beginning about 20 minutes after sunset.

As a bonus, tiny Mercury shining at magnitude -1.6, appears next to Venus on the 18th and climbs well above it by the 30th. This appearance of Mercury will be one of the best in recent times as it doesn’t reach its greatest elongation from the Sun until May 17th. Because Venus and Mercury will spend the last half of this month fairly close to the western horizon, a pair of good binoculars will help you to view these two planets.

Jupiter and Saturn remain in view in the early morning rising in the east a couple of hours before the Sun. At magnitude -2.1, Jupiter outshines Saturn at magnitude +0.8. Jupiter is now high enough above the horizon so that views of the giant planet and its moons could be quite rewarding through a small-to-medium-sized telescope. But don’t forget Saturn. Its beautiful ring system is open to 17 degrees from edge-on making the ringed planet a rewarding telescopic target.

The Moon will be last quarter on the 4th, new on the 12th, first quarter on the 20th, and full on the 27th. If you look to the east around 5 a.m. daylight savings time, the waning lunar crescent will be just following Saturn as they rise above the eastern horizon. On the morning of the 7th, the waning crescent Moon will be near Jupiter as it rises above the eastern horizon. Looking west on the 16th, about 45 minutes after sunset, the waxing crescent Moon will be just below the Red Planet Mars.

Due to the closure of New Mexico Tech because of COVID-19 virus concerns, there WILL NOT be a first Saturday of the month star party at the Etscorn Campus Observatory.

Stay safe and Clear Skies!

Jon Spargo

New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club

April 2021