Saturn and Jupiter stride up to the cosmic home plate in April and deliver runs of fun with a fabulous, fleet moon.
At the start of April, the ringed planet Saturn rises in the east-southeastern sky before 10 p.m., and by the middle of the month it ascends an hour earlier. This plump gaseous planet appears to us at zero magnitude, which is bright enough to see in Washington’s light-polluted night heavens.
By the end of April — specifically on April 28 — Saturn rises in the east exactly when the sun sets in the west. Astronomers call this opposition, when the planet rises opposite the sun.
Check out the waxing, gibbous moon in the early evening days before the Saturn-sun opposition. Nearing full, the moon struts near Spica on April 24, and then the full moon shifts toward the near-opposition Saturn on April 25.
Now face west: Find Jupiter loitering high in the early night’s western heavens at negative second magnitude (very bright). We can spend all of the evening hours with this other gassy planet, since it sets after midnight now. By mid-April, it sets just before midnight and, by month’s end, around 11 p.m.
Like a base runner dashing to elude a throw by Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, the young skinny moon — on successive nights April 11-13 — scoots across the evening, western sky. The youthful moon meets Jupiter on April 14.
The Lyrid meteor shower, which peaks April 22, has a gibbous moon problem late in the month. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada says the peak will be about 20 meteors an hour, but with a gibbous moon washing out visibility, coupled with urban light pollution, you may be lucky to see a stray shooting star.
With Comet Pan-STARRS fading beyond naked-eye visibility, it does loiter in the west-northwest after dusk now. It’s best seen through binoculars. This comet cruises toward Polaris, the North Star, by April’s end.
●April 5 — “Geysers, Explosion and Flows: Volcanoes throughout the Solar System,” a lecture by Jessica Sunshine, astronomy professor, at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. View the heavens afterward through telescopes. 8 p.m. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse
●April 6 — Behold the heavens with astronomers from the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, at C.M. Crockett Park, Midland (Fauquier County), from 6-11 p.m. novac.com
●April 6 — Spring’s constellations beckon gazers at “Exploring the Sky,” a live look at the night heavens at Rock Creek Park, hosted by the National Park Service and the National Capital Astronomers. Meet near the Nature Center in the field south of Military and Glover roads, NW. 8:30 p.m. capitalastronomers.org
●April 12 — “The Monster at the Heart of the Milky Way,” a lecture by Andrea M. Ghez, an astronomer at UCLA. Through years of imaging, Ghez shows how a supermassive black hole — at the center of our galaxy — is a certainty. At the Airbus IMAX Theater, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly. Free, but registration required. Meet Ghez at 7 p.m.; lecture at 7:30 p.m. airandspace.si.edu
●April 12 — “ALMA - The World’s Largest Radio-telescope: Looking Into the Beginning of Time,” a lecture by Alberto D. Bolatto, astronomer, University of Maryland. Hosted by the Philosophical Society of Washington, at the John Wesley Powell Auditorium, adjacent to the Cosmos Club, 2170 Florida Avenue NW. 8:15 p.m. philsoc.org
●April 13 — From the dark skies of Sky Meadows State Park, near Paris, Va., get a live tour of the universe from regional astronomers and from Sean O’Brien of the National Air and Space Museum. See wonders through telescopes and binoculars from 7 to 10 p.m. Parking: $5. Arrive before dark. airandspace.si.edu
●April 13 — “Our Dynamic Sun,” a lecture on our life-giving star’s varying moods, by solar physicist Holly Gilbert of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, at the National Capital Astronomers meeting, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 7:30 p.m. capitalastronomers.org
●April 14 — Live from Italy, astronomer Gianluca Masi provides a talk on his “Virtual Telescope Project” at the regular meeting of NOVAC, the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club. Room 163, Research Hall, George Mason University campus. 7 p.m. novac.com
●April 16 — “The Voyager Journey to the Edge of Interstellar Space,” a talk by Edward Stone, Cal Tech physicist and the Voyager mission’s chief scientist since 1972. Lockheed Martin Imax Theater, National Air and Space Museum, National Mall. Meet Stone at 7:30 p.m.; lecture at 8 p.m. airandspace.si.edu
●April 20 — Learn about our pixelated universe and the fabric of cosmic reality. At the Montgomery College planetarium, Takoma Park, 7 p.m. montgomerycollege.edu/Departments/planet/
●April 20 — “How to be an Observational Astronomer,” a talk by Hannah Krug, astronomer, at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. Through telescopes afterward, view the cosmos. 8 p.m. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse