Planetary Gathering Celebrates National Astronomy Week
April will offer an unusual opportunity for the casual stargazer to easily see five planets in the night sky after sunset. This will be the best gathering in nearly 20 years featuring the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. During April, viewers can watch each night as the planets assemble. Three of the planets, Venus, Saturn, and Mars will crowd into an even smaller area of the sky in early May.
Venus is the most brilliant. This planet is found low in the western sky after sunset. A very slender crescent moon will position itself 3 1/2 degrees to the left of Venus in the early evening of April 14. The moon shines between Venus and Saturn on April 15. The faint point of light 3 degrees to the upper right of the moon is Mars. Mars appears as only a faint star in April because it is now 209 million miles away from earth. If you really want to see Mars shine, wait until August 2003 when it will be only 35 million miles away.
An hour after sunset on Wednesday, April 17, the moon lies between Saturn and Jupiter, but it will be slightly closer to Jupiter. On April 18, Jupiter can once again be easily located because it is just 2 degrees below the moon.
On Saturday, April 20th, Mercury will be just peeking above the horizon in the WNW sky an hour after sunset. Use the bright white planet Venus to help locate the swift planet Mercury. Every evening at dusk for the rest of April a diagonal line of planets lights up the western sky. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter appear in that order from lower right to upper left.
April 15-21 is National Astronomy Week. According to the National Astronomy League, the week is celebrated as a grass roots movement to share the joy of stargazing with the general population. Astronomy clubs, observatories, universities, planetariums, and nature centers all over the country host special events to acquaint the general public and get them involved with astronomy.
Saturday, April 21 is National Astronomy Day. Our own Fort Wayne Astronomical Society conducts public-observing sessions at its observatory every clear Saturday evening, from April though November after it gets dark. The observatory is located in Fox Island County Park at 7324 Yohne Road.
The talented and gifted society members share their joy of astronomy with anyone who attends these sessions. Once you look out into the heavens at some of the spectacular sights through their telescopes, you too might become hooked on the wonders of the universe. This year you might be treated to a look at one of the many planets illuminating the April skies.