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Jupiter comes to opposition on 7 April, and its nearest to Earth this year on 8 April, when it is 666 million kilometres, or 37 light minutes away. Jupiter rises around sunset and shines very brightly indeed all night. The very nearly full moon passes close to its north on 10 April. The Juno probe orbiting Jupiter should still be sending back lots of photos and other data about the huge planet, so large that it is easily twice as big as all the other planets in our system put together.
On 1 April, Mercury reaches very nearly 19°E of the sun in the western evening sky. Mercury doesn’t come out far from the sun, but the view is pretty good from the northern hemisphere. The planet is almost impossible to see from Earth’s south. The new moon is well south of Mercury on 29 Mar.
Further out from the sun, but quite a bit less bright, is Mars, on its journey round to the other side of the sun. This journey is slower than that of the outer planets, because Mars moves relatively quickly against the stars in the same direction as the sun’s faster apparent motion. The new moon is nearby on 30 March.
In the first part of the month, Venus is out of view on this side of the sun, but soon emerges brightly into the dawn, easier to see at first from the southern hemisphere. By the end of the month, Venus is very bright and prominent in the morning sky, albeit low down as seen in northern skies, with the old moon nearby on the mornings of 23 and 24 April.
Saturn grows gradually brighter during the month. It rises after midnight in the constellation Sagittarius. On 6 April, Earth catches up sufficiently in its orbit, and Saturn starts heading slowly back westwards, towards Ophiuchus. The moon is nearby on 16 & 17 Apr.
Look out for the Lyrid meteors on 22 & 23 April, especially early in the night when the moon is out of the way.
Jupiter has passed its maximum brightness this year, but still shines very prominently in the evening and early night sky. The moon passes close to its north on 7 May.
Relative to its orbit, Saturn’s axis is tilted a bit more than Earth’s is; on 25 May, the ringed planet reaches its northern summer solstice, when its north pole is pointing its maximum amount towards the sun, and thus pretty much towards Earth, too. This happens once every 29 or so Earth years. The rings are thus on brilliant display. As it happens, the planet is also nearing opposition and maximum brightness for the year, so it’s a great time to look at it. It rises in the late evening, and can be seen on the western edge of Sagittarius. The moon is near on the night of 13/14 May. On 18 May, Saturn’s retrograde motion takes it back into Ophiuchus.
Mars may still be visible in the western twilight, especially at the start of the month. Mars is going round towards the back of the sun, and its greater than average distance from the Earth means that it is quite a bit fainter than Aldebaran, the bright red star of Taurus, near Mars this month. On 28 April, the very new moon passes south of Mars, and passes in front of Aldebaran, as seen from Central Europe. For Budapest the occultation lasts from 20:24 to 21:14 (18:24 to 19:14 UTC). For Britain and Ireland, the sun is still in the sky.
Venus is very bright in the eastern morning sky, seen high above the eastern horizon from the southern hemisphere, and lower down as seen from the north. Mercury joins Venus on the morning side of the sun, and on 18 May (17 May UTC), it reaches 25.78°W of the sun. It is a great view from the southern hemisphere, and Mercury is visible in the dawn for a few weeks, but the planet is almost impossible to see from Earth’s north. The moon passes 2.2°S of Venus on 22 May, and 1.4°S of Mercury on 24 May. Between Venus and Mercury, and a bit to their north, but not visible to the unaided eye in the morning twilight, is Uranus. The moon passes south of Uranus on 23 May.
Look out for the Eta Aquarid meteors on 5 & 6 May, especially late in the night, after the moon has set. The view is best from the southern hemisphere.