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Night sky this month – April


Highlights: Jupiter at its best.

Here is a view of the night sky this month as seen from mid-northern latitudes such as London or New York in mid April, 2016, at 10pm (22h UT).

The planets in April 2016

Mercury puts on one of its best showings for northern hemisphere observers in April, as it gets relatively high in the evening sky in the third week of the month. This is due to the angle of the ecliptic – the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun – being steeply tilted to the horizon at this time of year. Here is some advice on viewing Mercury and preparing for its transit of the Sun next month.

Venus is not really visible this month, since it rises only a short time before the Sun. For dedicated observers only, with specialist equipment, an occultation by the fine crescent Moon occurs on the 6th, after sunrise for mid-northern latitudes.

Mars is becoming prominent now, as it approaches opposition next month, and hence gets ever closer to the Earth. It brightens to magnitude -1.4 by the end of April, close to the head of Scorpius, and a small telescope might now begin to see some dark markings and the bright polar caps. Find out more about Mars here including maps to show its position in the sky.

Jupiter is very well placed still in the evening sky, and will be seen shining brightly as soon as it gets dark. A small telescope will show the banding in its cloud tops, and the four brightest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto can be spotted in binoculars.

Saturn rises before midnight by the month’s end, shining at magnitude 0.2 in Ophiuchus, and not far from Mars. The rings are very widely opened now and so may be well seen in a small telescope.

Note: The sky will appear much the same from other cities at similar latitudes, such as New York, Paris and Berlin, at around 10pm local time. The sky appears the same at the start of the month an hour later and at the end of the month an hour earlier. We use Virtual Sky, a new, customizable, browser-based planetarium, courtesy of Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network. Click on the date or location to the top left of the chart to view the sky at a different time or from another longitude and latitude. If you want to check out the sky as seen from the southern hemisphere, click here.