The beginning of April offers some of the best views of Mercury for the year! It will be visible after sunset (7:18 pm or so) and should be fairly high in the sky (for Mercury) at about 18° and quite bright (around magnitude zero). Look for it in the W after sunset. It is always tricky because it is generally very low in the sky, and terrain can easily block it. Catch it early in the month because it will get lower and lower, and well as dimmer and dimmer, as the month goes on, eventually disappearing from view around the 19th. It will reappear very low in the pre-dawn eastern sky at the end of the month. Always be careful to never risk looking at the sun with a telescope.
Venus is now a “Morning Planet” and rises in the east about an hour before sunrise on the first of the month and then climbs a little higher each morning as April progresses. By the end of the month, Venus reaches its maximum brightness of magnitude -4.7! It will have an elevation of about 15 degrees. Always be careful to never risk looking at the sun with a telescope.
Mars continues to move further away from us and thus is getting smaller, lower, and dimmer as time goes by. At the start of the month it has an elevation of about 20° above the western horizon at sunset. By the end of the month it will be only about 10° above the horizon.
The King just keeps getting better and better! At the beginning of the month, Jupiter rises in the east around 8 pm but won’t be so great until 10 pm, but since it is up all night it will be wonderful for night owls and early risers. Later in the month is better because it will be high in the sky by dark and visible all night. Check out the four largest moons (out of 67) with binoculars or a small telescope. They look like tiny stars in binoculars and small telescopes. Large scopes reveal more. There are also a few excellent opportunities to view the Giant Red Spot, namely; on April 1st it should be close to the central meridian around 22:00 and again close to the central meridian at the end of the month around 20:50. Awesome!
Saturn rises at about midnight, and climbs to its highest point around dawn. It never gets very high in the sky however (about 15° or so) so it’s not the greatest for detailed observing. It will be tough for the remainder of 2017. Still, Saturn remains a beauty through even a modest telescope, and never disappoints.
Uranus will pass very close to the Sun in the sky as its orbit carries it around the far side of the solar system from the Earth and will be unobservable for a few weeks; lost in the glare of the Sun.
Always be careful to never risk looking at the sun with a telescope.
Eventually it will re-emerge in the morning sky, and over the ensuing few months, Uranus will reappear and rise higher and higher in the early morning sky…but not this month!
Neptune is very close to the sun and only briefly visible around sunrise and sunset. Don’t bother. Wait a month or so. Always be careful to never risk looking at the sun with a telescope.
The Lyrids are the oldest known meteor shower. It is associated with Comet Thatcher which takes 415 years to orbit the Sun. Peak for this shower is April 22, but look for it a few days either side of that date. Not known for lots of meteors but can have some great bursts that exceed 100 per hour!
Spring is here, and while some Winter constellations are still around, they slide off to the West and go to bed early in the evening. Look for the Spring Triangle. It is a beautiful asterism made up from the brightest stars in Bootes, Virgo and Leo.
April is a good time to locate many easy deep sky objects with binoculars and telescopes. Ursa Major, and the asterism, The Big Dipper, are rich with many, many, easily observable galaxies. They are all nice and high in the sky and so free from much of the atmospheric grunge that impedes observing. Messier 81, M81, NGC 3031, M101 to name just a few.