Planetary Skylights                                                                                                       

Jupiter remains the brightest planet in the night sky high up in Gemini and although Mars may well be the centre of attention in April.

Jupiter is still the most rewarding planetary target to observe through a telescope given the dynamic nature of the Galilean moons, shadow transits, banding features and the great red spot. The Moon is nearby on the 6th.

Mars reaches opposition on April 8th when for the first time in two years the red planet will be closest in its orbit to Earth and visible all night.  That said, it is not a particularly close opposition and the Martian disk will only appear 15 arc seconds across, less than a third of Jupiter’s.  Detail on the surface will be quite difficult to make out through modest scopes, although the north polar cap should be apparent. Appearing half the brightness of Jupiter, Mars resembles a conspicuous 'orange star’ over in the SE and upper left of Spica during the evening. It lies due south by midnight. The Moon lies below Mars on the 14th. One final cautionary note, should you come across an article on the Internet or via e-mail reporting that Mars will be the size of the Full Moon, please ignore and bin.

Saturn is also rising just before midnight, vying for attention with Jupiter and Mars. Telescopically, it is best observed in the early morning hours when higher in the sky and clear of any turbulent air. By dawn Saturn lies over in the SW. The moon lies near Saturn on the 17th.

Venus is seen as a brilliant object low down in the SE an hour before sunrise. On April 12th it lies just over half a degree above Neptune. The moon lies nearby on the 25th.

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse; There is a total lunar eclipse on April 15th, unfortunately from the UK, this occurs after moon set in the WSW and only the start of the penumbral phase is therefore visible, and therefore not easy to detect

April Meteors; A number of lesser meteor showers occur during April. The Virginids and alpha Scorpiids each have zenith hourly rates (ZHR) of around half a dozen. The Virginids peak on April 7/8th and the Scorpiids on the 27th. The month’s most prolific shower, the Lyrids, peak on the morning of the 22nd.  Hourly rates are at best around the 15-20 mark, but actual observed rates will be less than this (7-10) View in the early morning hours of the 22nd.