Status Report

The Sky This Week 2004 April 2 – 9

By SpaceRef Editor
April 6, 2004
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The Moon brightens the overnight hours this week. The Full Moon occurs on the 5th at 7:03 am Eastern Daylight Time. This Full Moon is variously known as the Grass Moon or the Egg Moon, as these sure signs of Spring are finally appearing. It is also the Paschal Moon, the Full Moon that determines the date of Easter in the Christian calendar and the observance of Passover in the Hebrew calendar. Luna may be found near Jupiter on the evening of the 2nd. On the 5th her dazzling glare all but drowns out the bright blue star Spica. By the week’s end Luna keeps ruddy Antares company in the pre-dawn hours of the 9th.

It’s time once again to perform the annual rite of spring of changing your clocks to Daylight Time. Technically the moment to do so is at 2:00 am on the morning of the 4th, but most of us will grudgingly do it before retiring Saturday evening. We’ll seem to lose an hour of sleep, but we gain more evening light to wear ourselves out for a better rest. The subject of Daylight Time has been controversial from the beginning nearly a century ago, but now it is the law of the land, with rules specified in the U.S. Code. We’ll be on Daylight Time until the last Sunday in October, which will fall on the 31st.

The great planet parade of 2004 loses one of its members this week. Tiny Mercury, which enjoyed about 10 evenings of prominence up until now, is now speeding toward a rendezvous with the Sun on the 17th. Geometrically, he should still be visible in the western twilight sky, but his phase is changing rapidly and less of his dusky surface is visible, so he’s easily lost in twilight and haze. Still, we have four other planets to enjoy for a few more weeks.

The brilliant glow of Venus beams down from high in the west as twilight deepens. This week the beautiful planet slides east of the Pleiades star cluster. This should be a real treat for skywatchers with binoculars. Venus continues to close in on Mars; by the end of the week she’s about halfway between the star cluster and the red planet.

Mars keeps up a steady pace eastward through the stars of Taurus. By the end of the week the red planet, the star Aldebaran, and Venus form a lovely triangle. Although Venus makes a fast run at Mars, the two won’t quite meet up before Venus begins her plunge toward the Sun next month.

Saturn sits serenely in the western sky as evening twilight melts into darkness. The switch to Daylight Time gives him a bit of a reprieve for evening skywatchers, who can now set a telescope on him after dinner and still enjoy a couple of hours of good viewing. He makes a nice visual dessert for those of us who need to diet!

Jupiter continues to dominate the overnight hours. His warm glow shines down from a rather empty part of the sky, giving us a nice bright marker to tide us between the setting stars of winter and the bright summer constellations. He shares the limelight with the Moon as the week opens, but after that he’s in his own element.

SpaceRef staff editor.