Montana Night Sky Highlights for April
The highlights of the Montana night sky for April include the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, being visible in the evening sky and the planets Mars and Saturn having a close encounter in the pre-dawn hours early in the month.
As the month begins, when darkness falls, look for brilliant Venus low in the western sky when it sets about 1 and 3/4 hours after the Sun. About an hour and a half after Venus sets, the giant planet Jupiter rises about 45 minutes before midnight. By the middle of the month, Jupiter rises in the eastern sky just as Venus sets in the western sky. For the rest of the month, Jupiter and Venus are both visible in the evening sky at the same time with Jupiter rising about a half hour after sunset and Venus not setting until about an hour before midnight as April comes to a close. Toward the end of the month, Venus passes close to the Pleiades star cluster, the most obvious star cluster in the sky, on April 24. Then Venus passes between the Pleiades and the Hyades star clusters on April 27. The Hyades is the nearest star cluster to Earth and is formed by the V-shape excluding Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus, forming the horns of Taurus, the bull. The Hyades are found a little above and to the left of the Pleiades. Next up in the night sky are the planets Mars and Saturn, which both rise in the eastern sky a few minutes after 3 a.m. as April begins. At that time, orangish-gold Mars and golden colored Saturn may both be found near each other above the Teapot shape of the constellation Sagittarius. Also noticeable as the month progresses is the relative brightness of Mars and Saturn. When the month begins, Saturn and Mars are about the same brightness. By the end of the month, Mars has doubled in brightness while the brightness of Saturn remains about the same. That is because Mars is speeding toward its closest approach to Earth in 15 years, which it reaches in mid-summer of this year when Mars will become even brighter than Jupiter. Throughout the month, the separation between Mars and Saturn increases rapidly as distant Saturn remains relatively stationary while the much nearer Mars moves rapidly away from Saturn. By the end of the month, Saturn rises a little after 1 a.m. while Mars rises a little after 2 a.m.
As for the Moon, the Moon passes to the upper right of Saturn and Mars on April 7. The Moon passes to the left of Venus on April 17 and passes through the Hyades the next evening. The Moon then passes to the left of Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo, on April 24. The Moon is full on April 29 and passes near Jupiter that same as well as the next evening.
For meteor shower watchers, the Lyrid meteor shower peaks on the morning of April 22. This shower could produce up to 20 meteors per hour. With the Moon setting about 2:30 a.m., viewing conditions between then and when the sky begins to brighten toward dawn should be excellent for seeing the Lyrid meteor shower this year.