Saturday, March 31
Sunday, April 1
Tuesday, April 3
Thursday, April 5
Saturday, April 7
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 magazine of 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 effectively.
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 classic if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? I don't think so not for beginners, anyway, and especially 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 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 deep in the glow of sunrise.
Venus and Jupiter are moving ever farther apart in the western twilight, as shown at the top of this page. Venus is the brighter one, on top. Jupiter is 14° below it on March 30th and 19° below it by April 6th. These are the two brightest celestial objects after the Sun and Moon, being magnitudes 4.5 and 2.1 right now, respectively.
Venus skims the little Pleiades star cluster this week. It's closest to the Pleiades' center on April 3rd. Binoculars help show the delicate stars behind Venus's bright glare.
In a telescope, Venus is a little less than half lit and 25 arcseconds tall. Jupiter shows a much lower surface brightness, being farther from the Sun, but its apparent diameter is a little larger: 34″. This is small for Jupiter, and in addition Jupiter is disappointingly fuzzy at its ever-lower altitude.Mars (magnitude 0.7) shines bright fire-orange under the belly of Leo. Regulus is 5° to Mars's right in the evening, and Gamma Leonis is 7° above it. Mars was at opposition on March 3rd. Now it's fading and shrinking as Earth pulls ahead of it along our faster, inside-track orbit around the Sun. But at least Mars is shining higher in the evening sky now. It's highest in the south by around 10 or 11 p.m. daylight-saving time.
In a telescope Mars is about 12.4 arcseconds wide. Its North Polar Cap has shrunk to become tiny; spring is turning to summer in Mars's northern hemisphere. See our Mars map and observing guide in the April Sky & Telescope, page 50.
Saturn (magnitude +0.3, in Virgo) rises around the end of twilight and glows highest in the south around 1 or 2 a.m. It will come to opposition on April 15th. Shining nearly 6° to Saturn's right is Spica, about half as bright at magnitude +1.0 and bluer. In a telescope Saturn's rings are tilted 14° from our line of sight.
Uranus and Neptune are hidden in the sunrise.
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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