Monthly Sky Guide: April 2002
This month sees the beginning of a spectacular planet gathering in the western sky that involves all five classic naked-eye planets.
JUPITER in Gemini remains the most prominent planet in the evening sky. The giant planet continues to shine brightly high in the sky after sunset. At the start of the month Jupiter shines at magnitude - 2.2, dimming slightly to magnitude - 2.0 by month's end. The 6-day old crescent Moon will pass nearby on the evening of April 18th.
SATURN in Taurus a few degrees above the V-shaped Hyades star cluster. The ringed planet shines steadily at magnitude +1.1, or about twice as bright as nearby Aldebaran. On the evenings of April 5th and 6th, Saturn will pass close to a magnitude 5.8 star. A telescope is required to view the event which at its closest favors skywatchers in Europe and Africa. The star is very much brighter than Titan, Saturn's largest and brightest moon (magnitude 8), which will also be visible in a telescope at the time.
MARS in Aries croses into Taurus early in the month. The red planet is currently the faintest of the naked-eye planets but is easily located between Saturn and brilliant Venus. Watch Mars move towards and almost reach Saturn by the end of the month.
VENUS, the brightest of all the planets, can be seen low in the west-northwest sky. The 2-day old thin crescent Moon will be nearby on April 14th.
MERCURY enters the evening sky once again. Look for the elusive planet below and to the right of Venus from about April 20th onwards. On April 29th Mercury passes near the Pleiades star cluster.
COMET IKEYA-ZHANG (C/2002 C1) is now best viewed in the morning sky. The comet will decrease in brightness each day so view it before it fades. The sky map shows the location of Comet Ikeya-Zhang to the end of April. Binoculars or telescope required.
ASTRONOMY DAY this year is on Saturday, April 20th. Hundreds of astronomy clubs, planetariums, museums, and observatories worldwide will hold exhibits and activities to help promote the science of Astronomy. Sky viewing sessions should prove popular, especially with all five naked-eye planets in the evening sky. Take the opportunity to join in the festivities and learn more about the universe you live in.
Clear skies till next month!
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