If you are not familiar with what you see in the night sky, this is a great opportunity to step outside, look up, and begin learning the constellations. The sky is beautiful and filled with many treasures just waiting for you to discover them. Once you have looked for these objects go through the list again if you have a pair of binoculars handy, the views get better!
New note: Measuring Degrees with your hands, proportionally works for people of all ages. With your arm fully extended out:
Width of your pinky finger is 1°
Width of your ring, middle, and index finger equals 5°
Width of your fist equals 10°
Width from tip to tip of index finger and pinky finger stretched out equals 15°
Width from tip to tip of your thumb and pinky finger stretched out equals 25°
Highlight for viewing with the unaided eye
The Lyrid Meteor Shower peak occurs on the night of April 21st to the morning of April 22nd, and with the new moon occurring at the same time we are assured the meteors will not be washed out by the moon. The Lyrid meteor shower is estimated to produce around 20 meteors per hour on the night of the peak.
The constellation Lyra rises in the northeast around 10pm, and anytime after that until sunrise the next day is a great time to get out and watch for meteors.
April 3 – The Moon passes 9° south of Mars
April 6 – Full Moon
April 7 – The Moon passes 6° south of Saturn
April 13 – Last Quarter Moon
April 16 – The Moon passes 6° north of the planet Neptune
April 18 – The Moon passes 8° north of Mercury
April 19 – The Moon passes 6° north of Uranus
April 21 – New Moon, best night to get out and enjoy the darkest skies of the month.
April 24 – The Moon passes 6° south of Venus
April 29 – First Quarter Moon
April 1-5 is a great time to get out and watch Venus in the west after sunset. Venus will be passing through an easy to see Messier object, number 45; also known as the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters in the constellation Taurus. April 3 will be the day it is the closest. Although this is not an extremely rare event, it only happens on an 8 year cycle. Venus does not pass over the top of any stars, but it passes within 1° of the brightest star in the cluster, Alcyone. With Venus shining at a magnitude of -4.4 it may be hard to make out the star cluster since Alcyone only shines at a magnitude of 3.
By April 30, Venus will reach it’s brightest point at a magnitude of -4.7.
Mars still dominates the night sky from sunset to about an hour before sunrise. Shining at a magnitude -0.4 in the constellation Leo, brighter than any of the stars that make up the constellation.
Jupiter is getting extremely low on the horizon by sunset as we start off this month. By April 15, Jupiter will only be 5° above the horizon at twilight, and will have dipped below the horizon by the time twilight ends.
Saturn reaches opposition, opposite the sun, on April 15, meaning it rises at sunset, and sets at sunrise. Saturn will reach a magnitude of 0.2 which is nearly a full magnitude brighter than Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo.
Photo Above: The Venus conjunction with the Pleiades/M45 star cluster in Taurus. Screen grab from astronomy freeware Cartes Du Ciel; below, the radiant of the Lyrid meteor shower. Screen grab from the astronomy freeware Stellarium.
Michael Rector is an amateur astronomer with his own blog, Adirondack Astronomy.