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Sunday, 5 April 2020  •  Sunday, 12 Willow Moon 2020

Watching the night sky in Willow Moon 2020

25 March - 22 April 2020

Map of night sky at full moon: 8 April, 02:35 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Willow Moon 2020

Venus is the bright evening star, and on 25 March, it reaches 46°E of the sun in the western evening sky. The moon is nearby on 28 March, with the Pleiades about 5°W of Venus. On 3 April, Venus passes in front of the southern portion of the Pleiades cluster: a beautiful sight. Look through binoculars or a telescope to see the immensely rich star field, and also Venus in its half phase, with the lit half pointing towards where the sun has set.

Mercury is visible all month in the southern hemisphere’s morning sky, falling into the dawn at the end of the month, with the very old crescent moon above it on 21 April.

Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto are all near each other in the morning sky on the borders of the southern constellations Sagittarius and Capricornus. At the start of the lunar month, Mars is half way between the slightly brighter Saturn and the much brighter Jupiter. Pluto, unseen unless through large telescopes, is between Mars and Jupiter. On 30 March, Mars joins Saturn in Capricornus, and on 31 March passes 0.9°S of the ringed planet. Mars rushes on eastwards against the background of the stars much faster than its line-of-sight neighbours, and by 9 April it has left Saturn so far behind that the ringed planet is now halfway between Mars and Jupiter. Mars also brightens during the month faster than the others, and on 13 April it has reached the same brightness as Saturn. On 15 April the moon is near Jupiter and Saturn, and on 16 April is south of Mars. Substantially further out from the sun than Mars, Jupiter nevertheless makes good progress through the stars, and by the end of the lunar month has drawn considerably closer to Saturn.

Look out for the Lyrid meteors around 22 and 23 April, especially as the moon is out of the way.

The month ahead: Hawthorn Moon 2020

23 April - 22 May 2020

Map of night sky at full moon: 7 May, 10:45 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Hawthorn Moon 2020

Venus is the bright evening planet. The moon is nearby on 26 April. In the last week or so of the lunar month, Mercury emerges from behind the sun into the western sky at dusk, a good view from the northern hemisphere, with the planet sitting between the much brighter Venus and the sunset. Each night, Mercury climbs a bit higher and Venus sinks a bit lower, until you can see them close together on the evening of 21 May. On the evening of 22 May, Mercury is higher above the sunset than brilliant Venus as it swings towards being between Earth and the sun. If you are able to look at the two planets through binoculars or a telescope, you will be able to see their phases: Mercury more than half full, over towards the further side of the sun, and Venus a thin crescent.

An hour or two after midnight rise Jupiter and Saturn, now noticeably close in the sky, with Jupiter much the brighter of the two. By the end of the year these two bright planets are even closer. They are on the borders of Sagittarius and Capricornus and as seen from northern lands, they are low down in the southeast and south. Mars rises into the morning sky approximately an hour after Jupiter and Saturn, a little brighter than Saturn, and noticeably redder. On 9 May, Mars moves into the constellation Aquarius. On the mornings of 12 and 13 May, the moon is near Jupiter and Saturn. On 15 May, the moon is near Mars.

Look out for the Lyrid meteors around 22 and 23 April, especially as the moon is out of the way, and for the Eta Aquarid meteors around 5 and 6 May, especially from the southern hemisphere, though the nearly full moon may make them harder to see.

It is possible that Comet C/2019 Y4 Atlas will be visible to the naked eye this month in the northern sky. The map shows where it is at full moon, in the northern hemisphere’s northwestern sky after dark. To get there, it has travelled from the north of Ursa Major and into Camelopardalis. After full moon, it moves south, and travels through Perseus from 12-26 May, brightening as it gets nearer the sunset. At the time of writing, it is very uncertain how bright this comet will be. Watch for updates.

William Morris
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