MANITOBA SKIES – April 2020
Contributed by Scott D. Young, Senior Planetarium Producer
April is a great month for stargazing, and the sky doesn’t close for pandemics. (It does for clouds, but that’s another story.) The planet Venus still dominates the evening sky, and the winter constellations are fading into the sunset while the spring constellations take center stage high in the south. Let’s dive right in!
Venus is definitely a big draw to the sky right now. It’s giving us one of its best shows of the last decade, becoming visible soon after sunset very high in the sky and staying visible well after darkness falls. It’s that insanely-bright “star” you see in the western sky after sunset. (It’s technically bright enough to see before sunset, if the sky is really clear, but it can be hard to train your eyes to focus properly with all the blue sky around it.) Venus reached greatest elongation on March 24 – that means it’s as far from the Sun in our sky as possible. When greatest elongation occurs in the spring, the geometry means that Venus is very high in the sky, instead of hanging around near the horizon where it is easily obstructed by trees or buildings.
On April 3, Venus makes its closest approach to the Pleiades star cluster. The Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters, is a beautiful object in its own right, and having Venus so close turns this into a great photo-op.
Through a telescope, Venus doesn’t show much detail, since its surface is obscured by thick white clouds. About the only thing you’ll notice is Venus’ phase. (The inner planets go through phases like the Moon does.) Right now, Venus is about half-lit by the sun, similar to a Quarter Moon. Over the coming months, you can watch Venus get larger in size as its phase shrinks to a crescent.
Mercury is too close to the sun in the morning sky to be easily visible this month.
Venus is visible the entire month in the early evening sky; see the introductory article above.
Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are still close together in the morning sky, low in the southeast before sunrise. Mars is moving faster than the others become the leftmost of the trio, passing Saturn on April 2. By the 10th the three planets for an equally-spaced line with Mars on the left, Saturn in the middle, and brighter Jupiter on the right. From April 14-16 the moon joins the scene, making for a nice photo opportunity. By the end of the month, Mars has pulled away from the other two, and Jupiter is edging closer to Saturn.
Uranus and Neptune are normally visible (just!) in binoculars or small telescopes, but this month they are are too close to the Sun to be visible.
The dwarf planet Pluto is near Mars in the sky, but it is so far away that it is only visible in large telescope (and then, only as a speck of light).
APRIL 2020 SKY CALENDAR
Wednesday, April 1: First Quarter Moon
Friday, April 3: Venus makes its closest approach to the Pleiades star cluster, but it’s pretty close for several days before and after.
Tuesday, April 7: Full Moon
Sunday, April 12: Yuri’s Night online! Celebrate the first human spaceflight with online activities and guest speakers. Details TBA.
Tuesday, April 14 (morning sky): Last Quarter Moon is to the right of the Mars-Saturn-Jupiter line in the southern sky.
Wednesday, April 15 (morning sky): The waning gibbous Moon is directly below Saturn, with Mars to the left and Jupiter to the right. (No, it won’t make a “happy face” as some folks are saying, but it will still be worth getting up early for!)
Thursday, April 16 (morning sky): The waning gibbous Moon is to the lower left of Mars, with Saturn to the right and Jupiter farther right.
Wednesday, April 22: New Moon
The StarLink satellite swarms have been visible over Manitoba lately. These trains of satellites appear as moving “stars” one after the other, following the same path across the sky. To find out when they’ll be visible, consult Heavens-above.com and set it for your location. Or, you can just go outside in the evening and you’ll probably see some.
To see when the International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba, click here. You can find times for other locations across Manitoba and throughout the world, as well as times for other orbiting objects, by visiting Heavens-above.com and entering your location here.