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Planets line up for early April spectacle

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Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars will be low in the western sky this week. The moon is shown as it will appear from North America. The star Alpha Ceti is also known as Menkar. (Click arrows for subsequent dates) Copyright 2000 Sky Publishing Corp.  

April 4, 2000
Web posted at: 3:59 p.m. EDT (1959 GMT)

The first week of April is providing planet watchers with quite a show. Anyone looking toward the western sky can see Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn shining low above the horizon just after sunset. In fact, Mars and Jupiter will be so close to each other (just 1 degree apart) that those with a low-power telescope can probably fit them both in the same eyepiece field.

Just above and to the left of the Mars-Jupiter pair is Saturn, appearing dimmer than Jupiter but brighter than the red planet. The moon is new on April 4 and too close to the sun to be seen, but by the evening of April 6 the ultra-thin sliver of a waxing crescent moon joins the festivities. During dusk on the 6th, the young moon will hover just to the left of the three planets -- a picturesque scene worth stepping outside to admire.

The moon will be shining farther to the planets' upper left by the evening of Astronomy Day, April 8, when many amateur-astronomy clubs will set up telescopes to show off the sky to the public.

By then Mars will have crept above Jupiter. The red planet passes close by Saturn a week later, on April 15. After that, all three planets will become harder to see as they descend lower into the west.

  MESSAGE BOARD
 

They are on their way to an even bigger gathering of planets in early May, when Mercury and Venus will join them in the same general area of the sky. Unfortunately this grand grouping will be hidden from view in the glare of the sun.


On the evening of May 4 in North America, the five brightest planets along with the moon and sun are grouped within a 26-degree sector of sky. But Mars is the only planet far enough from the sun to remain above the horizon after sunset and be seen with the naked eye. Copyright 2000 Sky Publishing Corp. (Click for large image)  



RELATED STORIES:
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Observatory reveals storms on Neptune, oceans on Titan
January 18, 2000
NASA announces missions to seek planets, study gamma rays
October 15, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Astronomy Day
Sky and Telescope Magazine

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