Friday, April 19
Saturday, April 20
Sunday, April 21
Monday, April 22
Tuesday, April 23
Wednesday, April 24
Thursday, April 25
Friday, April 26
Saturday, April 27
Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the beloved if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.2° repeatability). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their invaluable Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is lost in the glow of dawn.
Venus and Mars remain hidden behind the glare of the Sun.
Jupiter (magnitude 2.0, in Taurus) is the first "star" to come out in the west after sunset. It descends in the evening and sets around 11 p.m. Below Jupiter sparkles orange Aldebaran, and a similar distance above Jupiter is El Nath (Beta Tauri). Bright Capella shines to the upper right from there.
In a telescope, Jupiter has shrunk to a disappointing 34 arcseconds wide.
Saturn (magnitude +0.1, in Libra) is nearing opposition. It glows low in the east-southeast as twilight fades, well to the lower left of Spica and farther lower right of brighter Arcturus. Saturn rises higher all evening and shines highest in the south around 1 a.m. daylight saving time. It's at opposition on the night of April 27th.
Carefully note the brightness of Saturn's rings with respect to the globe. Keep watch. The rings brighten for a few days around opposition due to the Seeliger effect: the solid particles of the rings preferentially reflect sunlight back in the direction it came from, more than Saturn's cloudtops do.
Uranus is hidden deep in the dawn.
Neptune (magnitude 7.9, in Aquarius) is very low in the east-southeast just before dawn.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon including the words up, down, right, and left are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.
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