Status Report

The Sky This Week 2004 April 23 – 30

By SpaceRef Editor
April 23, 2004
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The Moon brightens the evening sky this week. First Quarter occurs on the 27th at 1:32 pm Eastern Daylight Time. Luna passes golden Saturn on the evening of the 24th. On the night of the 29th she stands just a few degrees above the bright glow of Jupiter.

April 24th is national Astronomy Day, which will be observed here in the Washington area by many local amateur astronomers. The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club will host a variety of activities beginning at 3:00 pm at C.M Crockett Park near Warrenton, VA. A wide variety of telescopes will be set up to observe the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, and sundry deep-sky targets until 11:00 pm. Bring a telescope if you have one, or simply stop by and get a look through someone else’s. Information may be found on the Club’s website at Amateurs in Maryland will convene at Black Hill Regional Park in Boyds, MD and host similar activities. This is a great opportunity to explore the pleasures of what is arguably the world’s oldest hobby.

Three planets are beginning to congregate in the western sky. Venus, Mars, and Saturn are located within a span of about 20 degrees in the evening twilight sky, and as the week opens the Moon wanders among them as well. Venus is the easiest of the three to spot. Her dazzle penetrates broad daylight now, and she is easy to spot as soon as the Sun goes down. She reaches her closest separation from Mars on the evening of the 25th, standing just over five degrees from the red planet.

Mars seems to hold off the charge of much brighter Venus, but he’s grown so dim that he almost needs Venus nearby to help you find him. He’s keeping a steady pace against the advancing Sun, and is steadily bearing down on distant Saturn. He’ll overtake the ringed planet in another few weeks. Through the telescope he’s little more than a tiny pink dot, but the Mars rovers are still sending back glorious views of his far-off surface.

Saturn still enjoys a few hours of good observing time as twilight deepens to night. Of all celestial sights, Saturn is the one that elicits the most disbelief from first-time viewers. It is a strange sight indeed, looking like a baleful eye blinking back at us across a gulf of nearly a billion miles.

Jupiter enjoys the most prominence in the evening sky. While Venus rules the twilight hours, Jupiter holds court after darkness descends. He is easily found high in the south once darkness falls, and he swings past the meridian about an hour after the end of astronomical twilight. The Moon joins him by the week’s end, and it is interesting to ponder his disc through the telescope and then swing over to our natural satellite. Suddenly the enormous distance between us and the distant giant planet becomes vary apparent!

For information on ASTRONOMY DAY ACTIVITIES this Saturday, click
here or here.

For information on MARS ROVER ACTIVITIES this week, click

For information on BRIGHT SATELLITES passing over Washington, DC this week, click

For more information eclipses, click

For more information on meteor showers, click

For more information on observable comets, click

For pictures of Comet Hale-Bopp, click

For more information on the digital planet pictures on this page, click

SpaceRef staff editor.