The Seasonal Almanac: Events for April and May 1996

The Seasonal Almanac covers astronomical events and nature, including Venus, a lunar eclipse, azaleas and rhododendrons and when Easter occurs.

| April/May 1996

  • Rhododendron seasonal almanac
    The most fascinating feature of rhododendrons is the temperature behavior of their leaves, which enables us to use them as natural thermometers. The greater the angle of uplift in the rhododendron leaves, the higher the temperature.

  • Rhododendron seasonal almanac

The Seasonal Almanac shares astronomical events in April and May 1996. Brilliant Venus will actually cast shadows in May. 

The Seasonal Almanac: Events for May 1996

Venus is the brightest point of light in the heavens. But this spectacular planet is fairly close to the Sun in space and therefore always appears fairly close to the Sun in our sky. We are lucky when Venus is visible for more than an hour or two before sunrise or more than an hour or two after sunset. And this spring we are luckiest of all: in its eight-year cycle of recurring appearances, this is the spring that Venus soars to its highest in the evening sky. As April begins, the brilliant "evening star" hangs halfway up the southwest sky at sunset and does not itself sink below the horizon until about four hours later.

A bonus for Venus watchers occurs at the start of April. On April 2 and 3, Venus is skimming right along the edge of the loveliest of all star clusters, the Pleiades, or "Seven Sisters," cluster. Although the cluster is usually easy to see with the naked eye, the brilliance of Venus may so overwhelm its stars that we'll need binoculars to spot them plainly. The next few nights, no optical aid should be required to view the wonderful little grouping of sapphire-like stars being left behind by the peerless diamond of Venus.

Venus is noticeably lower at sunset by early May, but to make up for this, the planet gets even brighter. The maximum brilliance of Venus is almost unbelievable, especially as seen from a rural site, where Venus is even capable of casting shadows in a very dark location. Try to see how soon before sunset each day you can first glimpse Venus. On days of deep-blue sky, the planet can even be found in the middle of the day with the unaided eye!

The final weeks of May bring us the drama of Venus appearing appreciably lower with each passing night. At the start of May, Venus sets over three and a half hours after the Sun, but by the end of the month, only about one hour after. And if you have a small telescope or even a pair of binoculars you can hold steady, there is another wonder of Venus to behold: the changing phase of the planet. Venus is a planet closer to the Sun than Earth is, and it displays to us phases like the moon does (fully lit globe of Venus, half-Venus, crescent Venus ... ) Of course, normally you need a fairly good telescope to detect these phases. But in May, Venus is approaching unusually close to Earth (not dangerously close, don't worry!). So even binoculars may show it as more of a long, skinny crescent than as the simple point of light it looks like to the naked eye.

A Total Lunar Eclipse for the Eastern U.S.  

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