Voyager 2 was launched on Aug. 20, 1977, two weeks ahead of its twin, Voyager 1, and has been operating for more than 36 years and is now at a distance of 104.6 astronomical units (A.U.)
An A.U. equals the distance between the Earth and sun, or 93 million miles. Like its twin sister, Voyager 2 visited Jupiter (1979) and Saturn (1981), sending back countless pictures of the planets and moons. Voyager 2 also visited Uranus (1986) and Neptune (1989) completing the “Grand Tour” of the outer planets, the only space probe to do so.
Today, with most of its instruments dead but still sending back weak signals, Voyager 2 will spend its remaining working life taking measurements of the interplanetary magnetic field and charged particles at the edge of the heliosphere or outer limit of the solar system. Like its twin, Voyager 2 carries a recording of Earth sounds, including Chuck Berry’s 1950s hit “Johnny B. Goode” to tell any space traveler who encounters it what earthlings are like. You have to wonder what Dr. Spock would think of Chuck Berry. In a few years, Voyager 2 will fall silent and spend eternity sailing through the vastness of the universe.
Focus on the Planets
Mercury is just barely above the western horizon as dawn breaks and will be difficult to spot even by telescope. Mercury passes behind the sun and is lost to view at the end of the month.
Venus rises in the east about two hours before the sun. Even though it is now only about a quarter of the way up on the horizon, Venus still is easy to spot as the brightest point of light in the night sky.
Mars is the brightest it has been in the past eight years and is visible from dusk to dawn. Mars is closest to Earth on April 14 when it stands directly above the nearly full Moon in the southeast about an hour after sunset. A telescope should reveal the white north polar cap consisting of carbon dioxide ice. Jupiter rises in the southwest around dusk and remains in view until about 2 a.m. On April 6, Jupiter is just to the upper right of the Moon an hour after sunset. The planet’s belts, zones, and the Great Red Spot are visible by telescope as are the four major moons in their eternal dance about the planet.
Saturn rises in the southeast about 10:30 p.m. as April opens, and appears two hours earlier by month’s end. The best viewing is after midnight when the tilt of Saturn’s fabled ring system is most pronounced. The large satellite Titan is also observable.
Uranus is lost to view throughout April.
Neptune is in the east and the best opportunity to spot the far distant planet is on April 11 when it passes less than a degree south of Venus. It still will be a challenge to spot.
1 Sunrise, 6:17 a.m.; sunset, 7:02 p.m.
3 Aldebaran, the “eye of Taurus the Bull,” lies just to the upper left of the crescent Moon tonight.
6 Jupiter shines to the upper right of the Moon tonight with orange Betelgeuse of Orion situated directly, but well below, the giant planet.
7 First quarter Moon, 4:31 a.m.
8 Moon at apogee, or farthest distance from Earth, today.
14 Mars is nearest to Earth tonight glowing just above the nearly full Moon. The bright star Spica lies just below and to the right of the Moon.
15 Full Moon, 3:44 a.m. The full Moon of April is known as the Pink Moon, Egg Moon, or Grass Moon. Note: The early morning hours of the 14 – 15 will see the first total eclipse of the Moon since 2011. Highlights include partial eclipse begins, 1:58 a.m.; total eclipse begins 3:07 a.m.; mid-eclipse 3:46 a.m.; total eclipse ends 4:25 a.m.; partial eclipse ends 5:33 a.m. During the 1 hour 18 minutes of totality the Moon may be anything from bright orange to blood red.
19 The sun enters Aries on the ecliptic.
20 The sun enters the astrological sign of Taurus however astronomically has just entered Aries.
22 Moon in last quarter, 3:53 a.m. This is the peak night for the Lyrid meteor shower but they will be hampered by bright moonlight. The good news is that they are often very bright and leave persistent trains. The best time for viewing will be around 2 a.m. when up to 18 meteors per hour may be expected.
23 The Moon is at perigee or nearest approach to Earth.
26 Venus is prominent in the east just to the right of the thin crescent Moon about an hour before sunrise.
29 New Moon, 2:17 a.m.
30 Sunrise, 5:27 a.m.; sunset, 7:39 p.m.
Send astronomical queries to Clair Wood at email@example.com.