This month the evening skies are dominated by three planets. The most brilliant and visible above the western horizon is Venus. Shining at magnitude -4.1, Venus spends a fair amount of time near the Pleiades star cluster with its closest approach on the 11th. Because of Venus’ brightness, you may need some binoculars to be able to spot the Pleiades. Also on the 11th, Mercury reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun. Shining at magnitude -.02, this tiny planet reaches a position of 10 degrees above the western horizon.
Mars is also visible in the evening sky and can be found in the constellation Gemini high in the west-southwest sky around 9 p.m. on the 14th. Having passed its maximum magnitude last December, Mars still offers a fine target of opportunity for a small to medium–sized telescope. Saturn continues its slow but steady climb into the early morning sky above the southeastern horizon becoming visible about an hour before sunrise.
This month we are also treated to the Lyrid meteor shower. The best time for viewing will be during the evening of April 22-23. With the crescent moon setting before midnight, the best viewing will be around 2 a.m. on the 23rd. While not known as a prolific shower, the Lyrids have a reputation for producing fireballs. You can expect about 15 meteors per hour. The Lyrids are one of the oldest known showers, dating back some 2,700 years. They are a result of a long– period comet known as Comet C/1861 G1, which has a period of 415 years. The comet’s next visit to the inner solar system won’t be until 2276.
The moon will be full on the 6th, last quarter on the 13th, new on the 20th, and first quarter on the 27th. Looking west-northwest on the 21st, about 30 minutes after sunset, the new crescent moon will be above and to the left of Mercury. On the 22nd, at about the same time, the moon will have passed the Pleiades star cluster and be just below Venus. Looking high in the sky to the west on the 25th, around 9 p.m., the moon will be found just to the right of Mars.
There will not be a first Saturday star party at the Etscorn Campus Observatory this month.
New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club