You can tell the two planets apart, as Earth’s neighbor Venus is substantially brighter than Jupiter. Now the effervescent Venus holds at negative 4.5 magnitude, which is exceptionally bright and easily visible from within Washington. By the latter part of April, Venus dazzles us with a negative 4.7 magnitude. Get your cameras ready; the skinny young moon slides by Venus on April 24.
The large and gaseous Jupiter exits from our earthly view. This planet dips below the western horizon at 10 p.m. now. By the middle of April, it sets at 9:30 p.m. By late April, the sun’s glare consumes Jupiter’s visibility, but fear not, since this planetary king returns to our view in June.
Saturn all night long: The ringed planet reaches opposition April 15. So when the sun sets in the west, Saturn ascends the east — and provides us a view throughout the night. Check out this zero magnitude object (bright enough to see from the city) throughout April.
Earth’s other neighbor, Mars, very red in our southeastern sky early at night, sits high in the east-southeast at sunset. It remains visible at zero magnitude, but the Red Planet dims as the month progresses. Mercury loiters above the eastern horizon in the mornings throughout April, if you’re able to discern it from the sun’s glare.
Thanks to a new moon — which translates into a darker sky — enjoy the Lyridmeteor shower on the night (around midnight) of April 21/22, according to the International Meteor Organization (imo.net). Estimates range from 20 to 90 meteors an hour at peak, but a casual sky gazer — staring into the heavens — at best may see just a few meteoric streaks.
The retired space shuttle Discovery arrives April 17 at midmorning at Washington Dulles International Airport, atop a Boeing 747. The shuttle will be transferred April 19 from NASA to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly. Myriad activities are planned for the Discovery Transfer Ceremony (April 19), Student Discovery Day (April 20) and the Discovery Family Days (April 21-22). For full details, go to discovery.si.edu.
●April 5: “Galactic Winds,” a talk by astronomer Alex McCormick, at the open house, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. Scan the heavens in telescopes afterward, weather permitting. 8 p.m. astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
●April 7: “Full Moon Walk,” a hike on the Piedmont Overlook trail at Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, Va., led by park naturalist Trish Bartholomew. Meet at the park’s visitor center. Hiking shoes are suggested. No children on the hike. Parking fee $4. dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/sky.shtml.
●April 11: “IUE – The Little Satellite That Could,” a lecture by Andrea K. Dupree, astrophysicist, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater, National Air and Space Museum, the Mall. 8 p.m. (After the lecture, view the heavens through a telescope, weather permitting.) nasm.si.edu.
●April 14: “Binaries in the Kuiper Belt,” a talk by Stella Kafka of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. At the National Capital Astronomers meeting, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 7:30 p.m. capitalastronomers. org.
●April 20: “Seeing the Moon in a New Light,” a talk by astronomer Sebastien Besse, at the University of Maryland Observatory open house, College Park. After the lecture, see the cosmos, weather permitting. 8 p.m. astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
●April 20: “Cosmic Dawn: The First Stars and Galaxies,” a talk by Massimo Stiavelli of the James Webb Space Telescope, Space Telescope Science Institute. Hosted by the Philosophical Society of Washington at the John Wesley Powell Auditorium, next to the Cosmos Club, 2170 Florida Ave. NW. 8:15 p.m. philsoc.org.
●April 21: Got quantum gravity? Find out how the universe is just another pixelated place at the Montgomery College Planetarium, Takoma Park. 7 p.m. montgomerycollege.edu/Departments/planet.
●April 21: With a clear sky, catch a few Lyrid meteors. “Exploring the Sky” at Rock Creek Park will be hosted by the National Park Service and the National Capital Astronomers. Meet near the Nature Center in the field south of Military and Glover roads, NW. 8:30 p.m. capitalastronomers.org.
Blaine P. Friedlander Jr. can be reached at PostSkyWatch@gmail.com.