MANITOBA SKIES – April 2018
April skies often bring rain, but also bring several planets into view. The planet Venus has reappeared in the evening sky, and the outer planets are rising earlier in the sky as they head for better views in the summer.
The brilliant star low in the west just after sunset is the planet Venus. Venus stays low in the western sky, although it's visible until after 9 p.m. because of the artificially-late sunsets caused by Daylight Savings Time. It's easy to identify - since it's brighter than any other object in the sky except the sun and moon, it is the "first star you'll see tonight" all month long, although you'll need to avoid any tall buildings or trees along your western horizon. Head out about 30 minutes after sunset and you should easily spot the brightest planet. On April 17, the thin crescent moon is nearby.
Jupiter rises in the southeast about 10:30 p.m., and by dawn it is still low but over in the south-southwest. Orbital mechanics conspire to keep Jupiter pretty low in our sky all month, which means telescope views will be affected by the hazy air near the horizon. Still, small telescopes will still show some cloud bands and the four largest moons of Jupiter.
Both Mars and Saturn rise in the early morning hours, in the southeastern sky. Both planets stay low int he sky, so you'll want a good southern horizon with no obstructions to block the view. Saturn's pale yellow colour contrasts nicely with Mars' orange hue.
To see where things are in the night sky, visit Heavens-Above's excellent Sky Chart page for Winnipeg, and adjust the times and dates for when you will be observing. For other locations, visit the Settings page and choose the nearest city or town.
Sky Events - April 2018
All times below are given in Central Standard Time (CST), the local time zone for all of Manitoba.
Sunday, Apr. 8 - Last Quarter Moon.
Thursday, Apr. 12 (evening) - It's Yuri's Night, the anniversary of the first human spaceflight. On this date, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarinmade a single orbit of the Earth in the spacecraft Vostok. Every year, space parties around the world commemorate the start of the space age. You can find tickets to the Yuri's Night Winnipeg event on the Manitoba Museum's webpage.
Sunday, Apr. 15 - New Moon.
Tuesday, Apr. 17 (evening) - The waxing crescent moon is near Venus in the western sky after sunset.
Wednesday, Apr. 18 (evening)- The waxing crescent moon is in the Hyades star cluster, making a nice view in binoculars.
Sunday, Apr. 22 - First Quarter Moon. This evening is also the peak of the annual Lyrids meteor shower, which can produce a dozen or so meteors per hour in the time just before dawn tomorrow. Pre-midnight rates can be much lower, both because of timing and the presence of the moon in the sky..
Sunday, Apr. 29 - Full Moon. This is also the day of Mercury's greatest apparent distance from the Sun in its orbit. Usually this means it's easier to see, but the geometry of the planetary orbits conspire to keep Mercury rising just before the Sun and impossible to spot in a dark sky.
Other events of interest to sky watchers can be found in SkyNews magazine, the Canadian Magazine of Astronomy & Stargazing.
To spot the International Space Station as it passes over southern Manitoba, visit Heavens-Above.com which calculates times and directions for you.