The main event of the evening sky in April is Saturn. The ringed planet is nearing its optimum viewing position and rises in the east just after sunset. It will be high in the southern sky around midnight and will be easily visible with binoculars or a small telescope all month. Look for the glorious rings which are becoming more visible as Saturn’s axis tilts toward the Earth as summer comes to its northern hemisphere (most planets have ‘seasons’ just like the Earth as a result of the tilt in their axis of rotation).
Jupiter is stil the brightest object after the Moon this month but it will begin to set earlier each night so take advantage of your last chances to see it easily for several months as it passes behind the Sun from our point of view.
Venus and Mars are taking April off and are not visible as they pass behind or near the Sun.
The Lyrid meteor shower peaks on the 22nd but a gibbous moon will wash out all but the brightest ones.
Comet PANSTARRs has been pretty disappointing except for amateur astronomers with a good camera and dark skies. I tried several times to see it from the Dogstar Observatory but got washed out by clouds or tress during optimum viewing nights. Google it and you will find lots of good pictures from around the world. I am placing my bets on Comet ISON which promises to be one of the brightest comets in years this fall and winter.
Thats all for this month.
Remberm to turn out your lights and enjoy the night skies of Balsam Mountain Preserve
Jim Stratigos, Resident Astronomer