One last glimpse before summer

Posted: Sunday, April 04, 2010

Days are getting longer and nights are getting shorter. We're also leaving the freezing cold behind. As we all love winter's benefits, I -- and perhaps many of us -- surely regret that our beloved starry skies will take a back seat soon. Therefore, after this article, see you again in August or September.

But at least we get some nice views for a good-bye. With Daylight Savings Time having started, it doesn't get dark until 10 p.m. or even later and therefore the diagram shows the southwestern sky between 10 p.m. and midnight throughout April. This late in the season, many of the brilliant stars of winter are either gone or hard to detect. Therefore look early in the month in the west for Sirius and Orion with Betelgeuse and Rigel, Aldebaran and the Pleiades. Still visible all month are the twins Castor and Pollux, reddish Mars near Cancer's Beehive and between Regulus and the twin stars, then Procyon, Capella in its pentagon of Auriga and, having shifted from east to west throughout late winter is Saturn between Leo's Regulus and Spica.

Saturn is actually of virtually the same brightness as these bright stars and thus blends in pretty good, so you would need this diagram or a starfinder to locate Saturn; both Mars and Saturn are also exagerated in this diagram: you'd need a telescope to see their disks and Saturn's rings.

Mercury is quite possible this month. The best day would be April 15, around 9:30 p.m. during dusk. It would be easiest to find because it has a couple of helpers.

Yet it may still be tricky because it's very low on the western horizon; look for bright Venus and the crescent moon just right of Venus, then follow the crescent's light pointing toward the horizon and you you notice Mercury.

Venus can be seen all month during dusk and during the summer it may be the only (aside from sun and moon) celestial object visible -- due to its great brightness -- during the short and barely dark nights.

You would find it near the northwestern horizon (because that's where the sun sets in the summer) around midnight.

Finding Mars and Saturn is explained above and shown in the diagram. Mars is joined by the waxing half moon right beneath it on April 21, Saturn by the waxing gibbous moon on April 24 and then the 25th, to the lower right and then lower left.

Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are not visible since they rise at the same time as the Sun does.

Andy Veh is a professor for physics, math, and astronomy at Kenai Peninsula College.

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