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Mercury

Mercury's long period of visibility for observers in the tropics and Southern Hemisphere comes to an end in April. The planet remains visible in the morning twilight sky towards the east, but only for the first two weeks of the month.

The best time to look for Mercury is at the start of April, when it appears highest in the sky. The planets altitude then decreases slightly each morning until it's finally lost to the bright twilight sky. During this time, Mercury brightens from magnitude -0.2 to -0.9. For observers at northern temperate latitudes, Mercury remains unsuitably placed for observation this month.

On April 26th, the planet reaches superior conjunction.

Venus

Although now fading in brightness, Venus continues to be visible as a brilliant morning object before sunrise. The planet starts the month at magnitude -4.4 and ends it at magnitude -4.1. Even at its faintest Venus is unmistakable; the planet dazzles above the horizon and is so bright that it's often reported as a hovering UFO!!

During April, Venus is best seen from the Southern Hemisphere and equatorial regions. From these locations, it's visible for more than three hours before sunrise. However, from northern temperate latitudes the planet remains low down and visible for only about one hour or so before sunrise.

The phase of Venus increases from 54 to 66% during the month and on April 25th, the waning crescent Moon passes 4 degrees north of the planet.

Mars

Mars reaches opposition in Virgo on April 8th and hence is visible all night. At magnitude -1.5, the planet is a wonderful red-orange beacon of light; positioned just a few degrees northwest of the brightest star in Virgo, blue giant Spica (α Vir - mag. +1.0). Not only is the "Red Planet" at its brightest for the year, but also has its largest apparent size, 15.2 arc seconds. Unfortunately, this is not a particularly favourable opposition. At the last great opposition in 2003, Mars reached magnitude -2.9 and displayed an apparent diameter of 25 arc seconds.

Mars can be a frustrating telescope object. When viewed through a 100mm (4-inch) telescope it appears small but under good seeing conditions it's possible to spot the polar cap as well as other major surface features such as Syrtis Major and various dusty shadings. Larger telescopes fair better with more subtle details visible.

On April 14, Mars is closest to Earth at 0.6176 AU (92.4 million kilometres or 57.4 million miles) distant and on the same day, the almost full Moon passes 3.5 degrees south of the planet.

Mars during April 2014

Mars during April 2014 - pdf format

Jupiter

Jupiter remains a beautiful early evening object during April. The "King of the Planets" is visible as soon as it's dark enough in the constellation of Gemini. Despite fading from magnitude -2.2 to -2.0 during the month, the planet is still brighter than Mars despite the latter reaching opposition in April.

With a current declination of 23 degrees north of the celestial equator, Jupiter favours observers located in the Northern Hemisphere. For example, from latitudes of northern Europe and North America, it remains visible until well after midnight at months end. However, from the Southern Hemisphere the visibility period is considerably less.

On April 6th, the first quarter Moon passes 5 degrees south of Jupiter.

Jupiter during April 2014

Jupiter during April 2014 - pdf format

Saturn

Saturn is now moving retrograde among the faint stars of the constellation of Libra. The stunning "Ringed Planet" is heading towards next month opposition and is visible from early evening, remaining so for the rest of the night. During the month, Saturn brightens slightly from magnitude +0.4 to +0.2 with it apparent size increasing marginally from 18 to 19 arc seconds.

To the naked eye Saturn appears yellowish. Through a telescope the planets rings are a beautiful sight, visible with just a small instrument and currently wide open (tilted at 21.7 degrees). A medium sized telescope of 150mm (6-inch) or 200mm (8-inch) aperture will show a wealth of details including subtle planet formations, divisions in the rings as well as up to half a dozen of Saturn's satellites.

On April 17th, the waxing crescent Moon passes 0.4 degrees south of Saturn and an occultation is visible from South America.

Saturn during April 2014

Saturn during April 2014 - pdf format

Uranus

Uranus reaches solar conjunction on April 2nd and the distant planet is unsuitably placed for observation throughout April from northern temperate latitudes. However, those located at southerly latitudes may be able to spot Uranus (mag. +5.9) with binoculars, low down towards the east just before sunrise at the end of the month.

The planet is located in Pisces and on April 27th the thin waning crescent Moon passes 2 degrees north of Uranus.

Neptune

Neptune, magnitude +8.0, is currently located in Aquarius. Like Uranus, it remains unsuitably placed for observation from northern temperate latitudes during April, but can be seen in the early morning sky from tropical and southern latitudes. By months end it rises up to four hours before the Sun from such locations.

The Solar System's most distant planet is never bright enough to be visible to the naked eye but can be spotted with binoculars and small telescopes. Finding Neptune is currently made easier since brilliant Venus (mag. -4.3) is nearby; the two planets reached their closest point on April 12th when separated by just 0.7 degrees.

Later on April 24th, the waning crescent Moon passes 5 degrees north of Neptune.

Solar System Data Table April 2014

 DateRight AscensionDeclinationApparent MagnitudeApparent SizeIllum. (%)Distance from Earth (AU)Constellation
Sun5th Apr 201400h 55m 00.7s05d 53m 02.4s-26.732.0'1001.000Pisces
Sun15th Apr 201401h 31m 43.8s09d 35m 15.5s-26.731.9'1001.003Pisces
Sun25th Apr 201402h 09m 01.1s13d 01m 36.1s-26.731.8'1001.006Aries
Mercury5th Apr 201423h 46m 48.0s-04d 03m 43.1s-0.305.6"811.211Aquarius
Mercury15th Apr 201400h 50m 58.7s03d 24m 28.1s-0.905.2"921.302Pisces
Mercury25th Apr 201402h 04m 43.1s12d 02m 51.4s-2.205.1"1001.331Aries
Venus5th Apr 201422h 03m 17.8s-11d 18m 06.7s-4.421.4"560.781Aquarius
Venus15th Apr 201422h 45m 13.9s-08d 11m 00.5s-4.319.4"600.859Aquarius
Venus25th Apr 201423h 27m 23.1s-04d 32m 34.9s-4.217.8"640.936Aquarius
Mars5th Apr 201413h 18m 32.6s-05d 30m 30.2s-1.414.9"1000.627Virgo
Mars15th Apr 201413h 03m 56.1s-04d 21m 18.9s-1.415.2"1000.618Virgo
Mars25th Apr 201412h 50m 22.0s-03d 22m 25.0s-1.314.9"990.628Virgo
Jupiter5th Apr 201406h 44m 38.7s23d 17m 00.9s-2.441.9"994.702Gemini
Jupiter15th Apr 201406h 45m 09.4s23d 17m 13.3s-2.340.6"994.853Gemini
Jupiter25th Apr 201406h 47m 02.6s23d 15m 50.0s-2.339.3"995.011Gemini
Saturn5th Apr 201415h 21m 49.3s-15d 56m 56.1s0.418.3"1009.087Libra
Saturn15th Apr 201415h 19m 32.3s-15d 47m 06.5s0.318.5"1008.999Libra
Saturn25th Apr 201415h 16m 52.3s-15d 36m 07.4s0.218.6"1008.937Libra
Uranus5th Apr 201400h 46m 43.8s04d 18m 50.9s5.903.4"10021.027Pisces
Uranus15th Apr 201400h 48m 49.5s04d 32m 05.9s5.903.4"10021.008Pisces
Uranus25th Apr 201400h 50m 52.2s04d 44m 56.3s5.903.4"10020.962Pisces
Neptune5th Apr 201422h 33m 13.5s-09d 50m 23.1s8.002.2"10030.751Aquarius
Neptune15th Apr 201422h 34m 20.6s-09d 44m 04.7s8.002.2"10030.636Aquarius
Neptune25th Apr 201422h 35m 18.9s-09d 38m 38.5s7.902.2"10030.502Aquarius