Here are the Moon phases in the Northern hemisphere for April 2011 and other interesting things of note in the sky.
3rd April: New Moon
11th April: First Quarter
18th April: Full Moon
25th April: Last Quarter
It’s the best time of 2011 to see Saturn as the Earth passes between the ringed-planet and the Sun in our respective orbits. Although Earth ‘whizzes’ around the Sun in some 365 days, Saturn takes 29 and 1/2 years to do the same. Each year though, Earth obviously ‘undertakes’ Saturn and brings us to our closest distance to it and provides our clearest view. This year that happens overnight on 3rd April, but throughout the whole month, given a clear night, Saturn should be fairly obvious to spot from around early evening rising from the East and overnight moving from East – South – West till daybreak. You won’t be able to see the rings without a telescope or binoculars, but it should be a fairly steady point of light unlike the twinkling stars.
In other exciting space news, NASA’s Messenger probe has started to send the first of it’s anticipated 75,000 images of Mercury as it orbits the planet for the next year or so. It went into orbit around Mercury, after a six and a half year journey, in mid-March 2011.
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and has an incredibly thin atmosphere so is pock-marked by meteor impact sites. Messenger is providing scientists with a new insight into the planet’s geology and surface. Did you know, the craters on Mercury are named after artists, musicians and writers of fame such as Debussy (which is the most obvious crater in the image above), Burns, and Byron.