The evening sky has the charms of the winter sky and the coming of spring sights. Mars is the only ‘wanderer’ after sunset. It has almost completed its long climb to the top of the ecliptic, standing high in the evening sky, even as its elongation from the Sun decreases by 10 degrees this month. Mars’ steady light at magnitude +1.5 tries to compete with the brighter flickering red giants of Aldebaran and Betelgeuse at magnitudes +0.5 and +0.9, respectively.
In the morning, the Teapot is really cooking for the next
several months. Saturn stands off on the
left side of Sagittarius and Jupiter is off to the right. Pop out with the
telescope in the early morning and find a clear view out to the south to sight
these planets. Even in twilight, Jupiter
can be a beautiful sight in any telescope, as the king of the planets can be
overwhelmingly bright in a dark sky.
We’ll have to wait until summer to see these gas planets in the evening
Saturn is getting sideways with us, at quadrature, just like
Jupiter last month. Now Saturn’s shadow on
the rings peeks out from behind the pale globe, giving depth to the view in a
telescope. The jaunty tilt of Saturn’s
rings is very noticeable, even if it does decrease a degree or two over the
next few months. Saturn serves as a
laser-like pointer to really faint Pluto about three degrees to its left and
the New Horizons spacecraft about the same distance to Saturn’s upper right.
Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is visible in most telescopes,
if you can divert yourself from gazing at the rings. Iapetus is fainter, but this month its bright
side faces us on the west side of Saturn around mid-month. Star HD 182578 appears like an extra Saturnine
moon starting around the 8th.
On the 13th, it’s near Iapetus. Titan appears halfway between Saturn and
Iapetus around the 22nd.
Hey, Jupiter! How are those belts doing? Find some clear mornings and sketch the dark belts on Jupiter. Keeping a record of the dark jet streams on Jupiter is a good way to get started doing astronomical sketching. Compare your observations to the standard set of belts Jupiter typically wears.
Start off the day after April Fools’ day with Venus standing
only 5 degrees above the horizon at 6am Daylight Time, even though Venus has 35
degrees of elongation from our Sun. The barely
lit Moon is just below Venus, smiling as if she is had a joke of her own on the
Mercury reverses everything in April, compared to our view
in February/March. Mercury will be in
the morning sky, will have a elongation from the Sun 50 percent farther than
last month, but it’ll only get half the separation from Sun in our skies. The southern hemisphere gets the best view of
Mercury anywhere in all of 2019. Mercury
closes to within a hands-width of Venus around mid-month, but no closer.
Asteroid 2 Pallas (more properly called a minor planet)
keeps company near Arcturus at magnitude +8 this month, as it closes to 150
million miles from Earth. Look for it to
pass near Eta Bootis (magnitude +2.7) around the 11th. 1 Ceres qualifies as a dwarf planet, larger
and rounder than Pallas. Ceres spends April as bright as Pallas, in between
Ophiuchus and Scorpius. At Ceres’
closest approach to Earth in late May it will be magnitude +7 and 163 million
April’s Lyrid meteors peak on the 22nd and 23rd
with up to 20 hard-to-see meteors an hour in a moonlit sky.
In March, the Dragon spacecraft, launched from the Kennedy
Space Center, visited the International Space Station. The SpaceX product, with room for four and
their luggage, was lofted without people ahead of a crewed flight in July. A Soyuz delivered three astronauts to give
the ISS six souls on board. The Chinese
station, Tinagong 2, no longer has taikonauts[i]
on board. Both the ISS and Tinagong are
forecast to make evening passes over us in the first third of the month. The Dragon’s ‘crew’ included a plush toy
Earth, which has won the hearts of many with its permanently astonished face. Plush Earths still on Mother Earth are sold
Term used in non-Chinese media for China’s space explorers – from Chinese taikong
(space) and the Greek naut (sailor)