Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Follow Rising Mercury in April

Follow Rising Mercury in April
by Dave Adalian

Most of us enjoy gazing at the night sky, but only a lucky few see the stars and planets as more than just a scattering of pretty lights. That’s too bad, because once you know what you’re looking at, the sky at night is an even more fantastic and wonderful place.

Fortunately for us, all during April finding our way through the starry night is easy as following the Moon.

First stop on the lunar tour is the most challenging. On April 3 around 7 o’clock, a sliver of moon will hang low in the west. Below it and to the right, see if you can find Mercury above the treetops, looking like a star with an orange tint. Mercury is climbing toward its highest point, reaching it the evening of April 16. By finding it early, the winged messenger will be easy to follow, rising higher each evening then slowly settling back into twilight my month’s end.

Meanwhile the Moon moves on, until April 5 it sits left of the Pleiades, a bright star cluster 380 light years away. On April 7, the Moon is above another bright light, dark yellow Saturn. Every dozen years, Saturn’s rings open wide as they go, and now is one of those times. The best way to see them is through a telescope, and if you don’t have one the Tulare Astronomical Association will be glad to share the view at a star party Friday, April 4, starting at dusk. Local stargazers meet at the Arthur Purcell Observatory, 9242 Avenue 184, south of Tulare and two miles west of Highway 99.

The night of April 9, the Moon will be near two bright stars--Castor and Pollux, the twins of Gemini. By April 10, the Moon will be next to the brightest point of light now in the night sky, Jupiter. This is a great chance to share the night with kids and test their eyesight. Some sharp young eyes can actually see the moons of Jupiter without help.

To catch the final two planets on the lunar tour wait until the end of the month and get up early. Look east on April 23 before dawn, and find the moon below and to the left of Mars, the Red Planet. Then, before dawn on April 27, Luna ends our tour at a spot left of Venus, the brilliant white Morning Star.

Enjoy the ride.


This column, the first in the Starry Nights series, first appeared in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta on April 1, 2003.

No comments: