By Duncan Lunan
The Moon will be Full on April 8th, which will be a Supermoon, full at its closest to Earth, and the brightest Moon of the year. The Moon will be New on April 23rd.
The planet Mercury is invisible in April. Europe’s Bepicolombo probe to Mercury, named after the pioneer of planetary slingshots, will perform one on April 13th as it passes the Earth, to turn inwards towards the Sun.
Venus is at its most brilliant in the evening sky in April, setting half an hour after midnight in mid-March, and around 11 p.m. by the end of the month. Venus passes in front of the Pleiades open cluster in Taurus on April 3rd, and the Moon is near Venus on April 26th.
Mars is in Capricornus and rises with Saturn about 3 a.m. in early April, only one degree from it on April 1st. The Moon is near Mars on April 16th.
Jupiter rises in Sagittarius about 3.00 a.m. in April, about half an hour before Saturn. The shadow of Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io will cross the disc north of the Great Red Spot on the morning of April 22nd. The crescent Moon is between Jupiter and Saturn on 15th April.
Saturn is close to Jupiter throughout this month, as above.
Uranus is too close to the Sun to be visible in April, in conjunction behind it on April 26th.
Neptune in Aquarius is also invisible in April, after superior conjunction on the far side of the Sun on March 8th.
After a long gap between meteor showers in the first quarter of the year, the Lyrid shower peaks around midnight on the night of 21st to 22nd April, with no Moon to spoil them. There’s always the possibility of a major outburst of the meteors from Comet Thatcher – the last one was in 1982.
After an even longer wait for a bright comet in the northern hemisphere, there may, repeat MAY, be one during April. Comet ATLAS, named after the asteroid-detecting telescope which discovered it, is heading sunwards and growing brighter at an unexpected rate. At the moment of writing it’s in Ursa Major, and will be in the faint constellation Camelopardalis (too faint for our map, but to the right of the Plough) for most of April. By April 15th it will be just south of the curve joining Venus and Capella (the bright star in the constellation Auriga) to Dubhe, the northern ‘pointer’ in the Plough leading to the Pole Star. By April 30th it will be almost on the line from Venus through Capella, projected, and by May 15th it will be level with the little triangle of ‘the Kids’ (next to Capella), to the right of them as it descends towards the northwest horizon. There’s no certainty about how bright it will become; as Patrick Moore was fond of saying, “comets are like cats. They have tails, and nobody knows what they’ll do next”.
Meetings of the Astronomers of the Future Club in Troon are on hold until further notice. For more information contact Alan Martin on 07947 331632.
Duncan Lunan’s latest book “From the Moon to the Stars”, a collection of space travel stories old and new relating to the Moon and Project Apollo, illustrated by Sydney Jordan, is now available from the publishers at https://othersidebooks.wordpress.com, as well as on Amazon or through booksellers; details of that and his other books are on Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.