April 2011, Stars over Wollumbin, our Southern Skies

While Venus still dominates the pre-dawn sky, Mercury and Mars are making their first tentative appearance there.

Saturn is left alone to reign supreme over the night sky, and invisible Jupiter rises and sets with the Sun

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MERCURY meets the Sun at Inferior Conjunction, on April 10. Being very close to the Sun until then and for a while after our little brother will return to visibility as a Morning Star only at the end of April, very low on the eastern horizon, at a dim +0.9 magnitude.

Mercury will rise before the Sun until late May.

VENUS remains the beautiful Morning Star until June 2011.  She has now reached her Gibbous Phase, becoming fuller but also smaller over the next few weeks.

In our mid-southern latitudes she will rise about 2 hours 40 minutes before sunrise at the start of April and two hours 10 minutes at the end of the month, still high enough above the eastern horizon for great observations.

Venus will pass the boundary of the constellation of Aquarius around April 10, entering then the outer regions of Pisces, transiting to the middle of this elongated constellation until the end of the month.

Here is a sky-scape of Venus, taken on April 15, looking toward the East, at around 5.15 am.

Click to enlarge

After disappearing from the night sky in December MARS will re-emerge before dawn around the middle of April, but still very low above the eastern horizon, hard to spot for a while longer in the twilight hour.

The Red planet will become well visible again as a Morning Star in mid-May 2011, rising before the Sun until 2012.

JUPITER has been lost in the Sun glow since the Aries Equinox (March 21). He will pass behind the Sun, at Inferior Conjunction, on April 6, remaining invisible until the end of April, when it may be glimpsed, very low above the eastern horizon, before sunrise. We will have better views of the Giant Planet in May.

The Sun will reach its yearly opposition to SATURN on April 4, the day of the Aries New Moon.  For now on Saturn will rise as the Sun sets and sets as the Sun rises, remaining visible all night, and at its most elevated around midnight.

April begins the period of maximum brightness for Saturn. The Ringed Planet will be as close to planet Earth as it can be, best time for obervation. With a decent pair of binoculars or a small telescope the rings of Saturn can be now seen, as well as the Moon Titan, the one moon in the Solar System with a significant atmosphere.

Saturn will be magnitude +0.4 at the beginning of April and +0.5 at the end of the month. It appears as a slightly yellow star, still transiting over the constellation Virgo, closely aligned to bluish Spica, Virgo’s alpha star, and above bright and orange hued Arcturus, alpha of constellation Bootes. As you can see in this sky-scape, taken on April 15, around 8.30 pm, looking North-East. The Waxing Moon will also be there.

Click to enlarge

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All the Sky Snapshots have been generated using Stellarium, a wonderful Planetarium freeware software.

Information for the Sky Events has been gathered from these web sites:

http://www.suite101.com/profile.cfm/kellykw

http://home.mira.net/~reynella/skywatch/ssky.htm#update

http://astroblogger.blogspot.com/

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/mjpowell/Astro/Naked-Eye-Planets/Naked-Eye-Planets.htm#PlanetList

http://www.astronomy.com/en/News-Observing/Sky%20this%20Month.aspx

http://www.curtrenz.com/astronomical.html

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