Status Report

The Sky This Week 2004 April 9 – 16

By SpaceRef Editor
April 12, 2004
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The Moon wanes in the morning sky this week. Last Quarter occurs on the 11th at 11:46 pm Eastern Daylight Time. Luna spends the week scudding along the southerly reaches of the horizon, visiting some of the rising constellations of the summer sky.

This weekend marks a new season of moveable feasts in the Christian calendar. Easter is fixed by a formula dating back nearly 1700 years, and its occurrence sets the dates for other celebrations honoring saints and events. Easter has astronomical ties to the Hebrew calendar as well, and the method of their reckoning still uses rules established long ago. We often receive queries about the dates of the first Easter, and unfortunately there is no clear-cut answer due to the vagaries of the ancient texts and the exact rules employed in the Hebrew calendar of the era. Like the event itself, the date will probably always remain a mystery.

The evening sky still plays host to the best celestial show of the night, with four planets gracing the sky as deep twilight fades. You still have some time to enjoy a good view of these far-flung worlds, but that will begin to change rapidly over the next several weeks.

Venus catches our attention as soon as the Sun slips below the horizon. Keen eyed observers can find her during the daytime on days with exceptionally clear skies. For now she hangs well above the western horizon at dusk, and by the end of twilight her glow commands attention. She will continue to brighten slowly for the next month or so before beginning her plunge toward the Sun and her solar transit in June.

Mars stays ahead of Venus this week, but the gap between them narrows to about 6 degrees. Venus doesn’t have quite enough to pass the distant red planet, though, and as April winds down the two will slowly drift apart.

Saturn starts the evening off in twilight west of the meridian, but he’s still high enough to train the telescope on for a few hours of entertaining observing. His rings are tilted at their widest angle for the year and have begun to slowly close up. This process will culminate with their edge-on presentation in the fall of 2009. We won’t have as good a view of them until 2017!

Jupiter crosses the meridian at around 10:00 pm EDT, so he’s a good target all night long. Jupiter provides endless hours of fascination for the small telescope owner who has a patient eye. His subtle pastel hues betray an atmosphere teeming with unimaginable violence, while his moons seem to drift serenely despite the gravitational grip of their huge master.

SpaceRef staff editor.