A Very Bright Idea: Venus, Saturn, Jupiter Show Off

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro Week - By Blaine P. Fried­lan­der

With apolo­gies to Tin­ker, Evers and Chance, April fea­tures a cos­mic dou­ble-play com­bi­na­tion: Venus to Saturn to Jupiter.

The nights of April start with Venus ready to play. Find Venus by look­ing west at dusk. This ef­fer­ves­cent planet has a neg­a­tive fourth mag­ni­tude (ul­tra-bright) glow, mak­ing it the bright­est ob­ject aside from the sun and the moon. It shim­mies be­low the lovely ladies of Pleiades (Messier 45) on the evening of April 11.

For­get television and steal a mo­ment for your­self April 19 and 20: The sliver of a new moon dances be­low Venus on April 19, and a slightly larger sliver dances above Venus the next night.

When evening falls, Saturn is high in the south­east­ern sky, loi­ter­ing be­tween the con­stel­la­tions Leo and Can­cer. The ringed planet — and en­joy those rings now — has lots of night ahead. It crosses the merid­ian about 10 p.m. and sets about 5 a.m. early in the month. Later in the month, it sets about 4 a.m.

Saturn is zero mag­ni­tude, which means it is vis­i­ble even from well­lighted ur­ban lo­ca­tions. Those mag­nif­i­cent rings are wide open now and, from our per­spec­tive, they will be­gin to shut. The rings will ap­pear edge-on, in­vis­i­ble to us, in 2009.

Early-morn­ing sky gaz­ers will en­joy find­ing Jupiter. The large, gaseous planet rises in the east-south­east well af­ter mid­night and can be seen high in the south at dawn now. This neg­a­tive sec­ond mag­ni­tude (very bright) ob­ject is snug­gled to the west of Sagittarius and south of Ophi­uchus.

If you see streaks of me­te­ors cross­ing the heav­ens in mid-April, you’re watch­ing the Lyrid me­te­ors. Th­ese me­te­ors are likely to be viewed be­tween April 16 and 25. There are not very many of them, and they peak April 22, when it is dark in Europe and it will be af­ter­noon here. Nev­er­the­less, try look­ing.

April 5 — As­tronomer Marc Pound dis­cusses “The Story of the Horse­head” at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Ob­ser­va­tory’s open house in Col­lege Park. See the heav­ens through a tele­scope af­ter­ward, weather per­mit­ting. 8 p.m. In­for­ma­tion: 301-405-6555; www.astro.

Down-to-Earth Events

umd.edu/open­house.

April 7 — Learn about tele­scopes at Fam­ily Day at the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum’s Steven F. Ud­var-Hazy Cen­ter in Chan­tilly, near Dulles Air­port. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Ad­mis­sion is free; park­ing is $12. In­for­ma­tion: www.nasm.si.edu/ud­varhazy; 202-633-1000.

April 14 — Frank Sum­mers, as­tro­physi­cist with the Space Tele­scope Science In­sti­tute, on “From Sim­u­la­tion to Vi­su­al­iza­tion: As­tro­physics Goes Hol­ly­wood” at the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Astronomers meet­ing at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Ob­ser­va­tory, Col­lege Park. 7:30 p.m. In­for­ma­tion: www.cap­i­ta­las­tronomers.org.

April 17 — El­iz­a­beth P. Tur­tle, plan­e­tary sci­en­tist at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, presents a lec­ture, “Ex­plor­ing the Sur­face of Ti­tan With Cassini-Huy­gens,” at 8 p.m. at the Lock­heed Martin IMAX Theater, Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum. Be­fore­hand, at­tend a free show­ing of the film “Cos­mic Voy­age” at 6:30 p.m. and meet the lec­turer at 7:30 p.m. In­for­ma­tion: 202-633-1000; www.nasm.si.edu.

April 20 — As­tronomer Lisa Win­ter on “The Milky Way: A Tour of Our Galaxy,” at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Ob­ser­va­tory’s open house in Col­lege Park. 8 p.m. In­for­ma­tion: 301-405-6555; www. astro.umd.edu/open­house.

April 21 — Find out how Amer­ica’s na­tive peo­ples used the heav­ens in a spe­cial joint pre­sen­ta­tion with the Na­tional Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian at “Ex­plore the Uni­verse,” a Fam­ily Day event, at the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with an­other ses­sion at 1 p.m. at the Amer­i­can In­dian mu­seum. In­for­ma­tion: 202633-1000; www.nasm.si.edu.

April 21 — As­tron­omy Day, hosted by the North­ern Vir­ginia As­tron­omy Club, at Sky Mead­ows State Park near Paris, Va. En­joy so­lar ob­serv­ing through safe fil­ters, and af­ter sun­down, peek through tele­scopes for the stars and plan­ets. 3 to 11 p.m., rain or shine. Park­ing fee. In­for­ma­tion: www.no­vac.com.

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