March was a good month for sky watching! The conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, followed closely by the appearance of the crescent Moon sparked a lot of interest. So what is happening in April to keep that enthusiasm going?
To help out we’ve listed some astronomical happenings of note for the next month, hopefully with a little bit of something for everyone!
Sunday 1st April - Today sees the start of Global Astronomy Month, encouraging all to look to the night sky!
Tuesday 3rd April – Venus is still present as a spectacularly bright object in the early evening sky. Tonight it will appear to pass closest to the Pleiades or “Seven Sisters” (so it should be a great photographic target) but the planet will be just below the open cluster on the 2nd and to the left on the 4th, so we’ve got three evenings to get some images (hope for clear skies!)
Friday 6th April – The first Full Moon of spring is sometimes known as the Paschal Full Moon or the Paschal Term
Also called the Pink Moon, supposedly because the grass pink (or wild ground phlox) is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the season, other monikers (varying by location) are the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and – among coastal tribes – the Full Fish Moon, when the shad come upstream to spawn
Traditionally, Easter is observed on the Sunday immediately after the Paschal Full Moon (Paschal meaning passover)
Saturday 7th April – Moon is at Perigee (358,315 km) the closest point of its orbit to the Earth, rising soon after 20:00 GMT (21:00 BST)
Tuesday 10th April - As the Moon doesn’t rise until after 00:00 GMT (01:00 BST) tonight is a good opportunity to look at some deep sky objects earlier on without the moonlight interfering!
Friday 13th April – Last Quarter Moon which doesn’t rise until after 02:00 GMT (03:00 BST), another good evening for deep sky observing
Sunday 15th April – Saturn is at Opposition in the constellation Virgo. This means it’s in an opposite position in the sky to our Sun so will rise at sunset and set at sunrise, making it observable all night long. The rings are beginning to open too (as the planet tilts) so they will look impressive even in a small telescope
Wednesday 18th April – Mercury is at its Greatest Western Elongation so will rise before the Sun and be visible to morning observers, close to the waning crescent Moon
Saturday 21st April – Tonight the New Moon sets at dusk, coinciding with the peak of the Lyrids Meteor Shower (from 16th to 26th April), which will start this evening and last into the early hours of the 22nd
The radiant point will be near the constellation Lyra with a ZHR (Zenithal Hourly Rate) of around 20 meteors per hour (but it has been known to go as high as 90)
Sunday 22nd April – Moon is at Apogee (406,420 km) the furthest point of its orbit from the Earth
Jupiter will appear very close to a thin crescent Moon, about 6° up in the west-north-western sky after sunset
Monday 23rd April – The waxing crescent Moon appears just beneath the Pleiades soon after sunset this evening. With the Hyades and Venus both nearby (all to the right of Orion), those with a flat enough western horizon may find this a good photo target
Thursday 26th April - Fans of the Moon have the chance to see (and image) three large craters this evening. Theophilus, Cyrillus and Catharina will all appear close to the terminator, similar to the image above that we took on 9th April 2011
Sunday 29th April – First Quarter Moon
Monday 30th April – Mars, the waxing gibbous Moon and the star Regulus (part of the constellation Leo) form a triangle in the sky this evening. Shown above at 21:30 GMT (22:30 BST), it should be a good target for some photos!
Planets visible this month:
Remember, it can take your eyes up to 20 minutes to become properly dark adapted, and anything up to an hour for a telescope to reach ambient temperature outside (to ensure the best image), so give yourself plenty of time to get set up!
To make it easier to find this list of astronomical happenings you can also locate it in the “Monthly Guide” section in the menu bar to the right. Handy! :)
Guide images created with Stellarium