The busy April 2012 night sky

Welcome to the April night sky. This month marks the last opportunity to see the gas giant planet Jupiter, as it sets soon after the Sun over in the west.

This planet is in the constellation of Aries and on the early evening of the 22nd the very thin crescent Moon, only one day old, will be close to Jupiter.

Mars is well visible in April high up in the south, still in the constellation of Leo, and the nearly full Moon will be close to it on the 3rd and again on the 30th.

Looking towards the southeast quite high up in the constellation of Virgo the ringed planet Saturn is shining a golden-yellow colour.

Planets are usually easy to recognise as such as they normally do not twinkle like stars and in the case of Saturn it is close to the bright white star Spica in the constellation of Virgo. Spica will be a sparkling white shade in comparison to Saturn which will be shining with a steady golden-yellow hue. This month on the 15th Saturn will be at its closest point in its orbit to our planet Earth.

By far the brightest object in the night time sky, apart from the Moon, is the planet Venus. This planet is in the constellation of Taurus and is moving towards the Earth and through a small telescope shows a crescent form that grows larger as it moves around its orbit.

On the 24th the Moon is close to Venus. This year the orbit of Venus is precisely lined-up with the plane of the orbit of the Earth and the consequence of this is that Venus will pass in front of the Sun as seen from the Earth on June 5.

This transit, as it is called, is not visible from Portugal and the next one is in the year 2117.

April 22 sees the annual Lyrid meteor shower; this has been observed every year since 687 BC.

Also, April has a higher number of bright meteors or fireballs than normal and they usually appear during the last two weeks of the month. Nobody knows why and they can come from any part of the sky. In order to see the most meteors it is best to wait until after midnight.  This is because we are then on the side of the globe that is facing the direction of travel of our planet in its orbit and this allows us to catch up with more space dust that then falls into our atmosphere as meteors.

The Moon is full on the 6th, last quarter on the 13th and new on the 21st and first quarter on 29th.

Clive Jackson can be contacted on tel 281 322 527, fax 281 321 754,

email [email protected] or visit www.cdepa.pt.