AstroCal – April 2023
Let us start the month with the elephant in the room, or should we say in the western sky?
Venus remains the star of the show, so to speak, dominating the western sky. After Venus and Jupiter had their very close encounter early in March, they began to drift apart until Jupiter dropped out of the picture by the end of the month. Jupiter will be in conjunction with the Sun on April 11 so it will not be seen at all in April. With a magnitude of -3.98, one can almost find Venus with their eyes shut. Simply find the brightest object in the western sky one hour after sunset. On April 9-12, it will pass just to the left of the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus, the Bull. Venus will also pass 7.4 degrees north of the star Aldebaran on April 18.
Mercury is in its best viewing position in the evening sky and starts the month just to the lower right of Venus. At its greatest elongation from the Sun (19.5 degrees on April 11), it will start with magnitude -0.5 but quickly fade to +0.1 by that date. A good viewing challenge for April would be to see what is the last date you can see the fast moving Mercury before it drops below the western skyline near mid-month.
Uranus will be located between Venus and Mercury but its low magnitude (+5.8) will make it difficult to spot that close to the horizon. Mars remains high in the sky as it moves eastward through the stars of Gemini, the Twins. The Red Planet’s brightness will fade as it moves from a distance of 136.1 million miles from the Earth early in the month to 161.6 million miles away by the end of April.
Saturn will be the morning planet of most interest as it will rise in the east 1 hour and 24 minutes before sunrise on April 1 (no fooling). By the 30th of the month, Saturn will be rising 2 hours and 28 minutes before sunrise. Look for the Ringed Planet to be hovering over a very thin Crescent Moon in the ESE one hour before sunrise on April 16.
The Lunar Cycle finds us enjoying a Full Moon on April 6, followed by the Last Quarter on the 13th, the New Moon on the 20th and the First Quarter Moon of the new cycle on April 27th. The early Crescent Moon will be visible low in the western sky on April 21.
If you are in need of dates to celebrate, don’t forget Earth Day on April 22 and International Astronomy Day on April 29. If you are counting the days until the official start of summer, April 30 will put us only 52 days away from the Summer Solstice. As our daylight lengthens, it is hard to believe we were experiencing our shortest daylight hours just 130 days before April 30.
There are two sides to the story of Daylight Saving Time and it is interesting to hear the reasons why some people would like to NOT change to DST each year and why some would like to keep our clocks permanently on DST (I am one of the latter not the former). My mother’s father was a farmer and his sleep habits were controlled by sunrise and sunset while these days, we seem to be more clock driven. With Ontonagon County being on EST (a quirk of our state’s geography), we are a little insulated from the debate but I still would prefer having the extra hour of daylight on those dark December days. Then again, we shouldn’t complain about it getting dark at 5:30 p.m. EST in Ontonagon when our neighbors on the Michigan/Wisconsin line a mere 45 miles south of us are getting the same darkness at 4:30 p.m. CST. The only thing we know for sure is the debate will go one until someone takes Taurus by the horns and settles the matter one way or the other.
One last note on the weird object ‘Oumuamua that zipped around the Sun in 2020. We covered the subject in a From the Vaults article of that same name on 4-14-21 (it can be viewed on the WOAS-FM web site www.woas-fm.org . Analysis of its unusual behavior have led to some speculation that it may be some form of alien technology like a lightsail. A more recent paper on ‘Scout’ (the translation of its Hawiian name) is that it was some atypical comet whose changes in velocity can be attributed to outgassing of materials even though it did not show evidence of the tail usually formed by comets as they near the Sun. We may never know the answer but it is always interesting to see how many theories an object like this can generate.
Compiled by Ken Raisanen of WOAS-FM – information provided by Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar, Michigan State University. More information and subscription information can be found on their website at http://abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar/ or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AbramsSkyNotes. Yearly subscriptions cost $12 and can be started anytime.
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