April Skychart/Northern Hemisphere gazer's guide

All Month: The planets all improve in position and in brightness. Morning has the edge, though, with Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The planet Saturn rises earliest, an hour or more before midnight; Mars appears a bit over two hours behind it; and Jupiter just before dawn. Jupiter is the brightest of the three as the month begins, with nothing in the sky to rival it. From midmonth, when Mercury reaches the greatest distance to the sun's right, the planet brightens by a full magnitutude (more than double).

(The events below occur in local time unless otherwise indicated.)

April 1: Today's last quarter moon (2:30 p.m., EST) rises an hour after midnight, in Sagittarius, not far from Mars, the ruddy planet to its right.

April 2-8: Moonrise occurs later in the morning each day, and the moon moves through Capricorn, Aquarius, and into Pisces, drifting past Jupiter on the 5th. Our last view of it as a morning crescent should be on the 8th.

April 9: New moon is at 1:08 a.m. EST, when the moon partially covers the sun over Australia, parts of New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea. This partial solar eclipse is the first of four 1986 eclipses.

April 11: Comet Halley passes nearest earth at 39 million miles. The approach clearly favors viewers at southerly locations, below 30 degrees north latitude.

April 13: The moon is farthest from earth (apogee) this morning. The crescent will be visible in Taurus after sundown, but the stars of the Bull will be too low and dim to be seen.

April 16: Gemini and the moon are up in the west after dark. The stars near the moon are Pollux (the brighter) and Castor.

April 18: The moon crosses the border between Cancer and Leo.

April 19: Regulus, the Lion's brightest star, is just below the moon.

April 20-23: Watch the moon pace off the distance between Regulus and Spica, the next bright star along its route. The moon is just above Regulus on the 19th, and above Spica on the 23rd.

April 24: Full moon is at 7:46 a.m. EST, and the second eclipse of the year takes place. Where the full moon is up, a total lunar eclipse occurs, beginning at 5:05 a.m. EST, just about at moonset in eastern North America. Total eclipse begins at 7:10 EST. Part of the total eclipse can be seen in western areas, and the entire umbral phase is visible from parts of Alaska and Hawaii. Be sure to adjust for the time zone.

April 26: The star Antares, Saturn, and the moon are in conjunction with one another today, and they all rise together in the east from about 9:00 p.m. on.

April 27-29: The waning moon slips through Sagittarius. It dips under Mars during the night of the 28th when both are just above the Archer's easily recognized ``teapot'' of stars. They are well up in the east after midnight.

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