If like me, you love looking up at the beauty of the night sky, this month has some fabulous things to see. I know this post up a bit late. Even though I had my notes ready, I was not sure I was going write it until last night.
There are so many interesting things going on this month in the night sky. So many that to talk about them all would make this article Very Long and that is not going to happen. So what I did was focus on ten to tell you about.
A few of these night sky events will require a good pair of binoculars or a telescope, others will be visible to the unadded eye, and some will be fantastic opportunities for a dramatic picture. Remember, for the best viewing find a place with as little light pollution as possible and get out at least 20 to 30 minutes early to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark.
April 11: Tonight, will be the best day of the year to see Mercury on the west-northwest horizon. It is going to be at its highest point in the evening sky this year, but still quite low so find a place that is high and offers a relatively open view of the horizon. Venus will also be bright and can help you locate Mercury. Just follow it down and to the right to find it.
April 15-16: As a result of the planetary parade a couple of weeks ago this month is giving us the chance to see the Moon to conjunct Saturn, Venus, and Mars. If you go out tonight about 2am you will be able to see the Moon within 3 degrees of Saturn.
April 20: The 20th is a busy night so you might want to wear a light jacket and take a lawn chair out with you along with a telescope and a camera. We are in the New Moon cycle. Both the 19th and 20th are zero percent illuminated and the 21st is one percent. This gives a good window to get out and enjoy the galaxies and Lyrid Meteor shower leading up its peak on the 23rd.
If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you will have the chance to enjoy the rare Hybrid New Moon Eclipse. A hybrid eclipse only happens 2-3 times a century and combines an annular and total eclipse. Where you live within the viewing area determines how much and what you will be able to see. This eclipse is best viewed in the Pacific and Indian Ocean from Western Australia to Indonesia. Along the border of the viewing area there is a potential to see a partial eclipse in places like Papua New Guinea and the Marshal Islands.
The final cool night sky event on the 20th is the potential to see the dwarf planet Haumea. It will be visible at sunset but at its peak height at midnight wherever you live. Now this planet is located beyond Neptune so it will be small and require a telescope to see. It is so far out that it takes 285 years to orbit the sun. So it’s worth the try.
April 23: I mentioned the Lyrid Meteor shower earlier. This event happens each year in April between the 16th and 25th with its peak on the 22/23. It is called the Lyrid meteor shower because it comes out of the constellation Lyra and is the debris from the comet Thatcher. Meteors can be seen at any time during the period of the shower; I have even seen meteors during the daylight hours.
The best viewing though is on the peak day around 4am. I really enjoy meteor showers. It is fun to take a blanket or lawn chair out with friends and spend time gazing at the sky. The constellation Lyra is in the east near Vega, but it is not unusual to have meteors coming across the sky from different directions. Stay warm and enjoy the show. The count this year is expected to be approximately eighteen per hour.
While you are preparing for the meteor shower another impressive viewing opportunity is the Moon conjunct Venus at 1 degree 17’. If you look west at sunset, you will see the waxing crescent moon and Venus. Could be a great picture!
April 25: Tonight, is the final conjunction and it is with Mars at 3degrees 13’. The Moon is still Waxing Crescent and again could be a very cool picture.
April 29 – 30: Wrapping up this brief list of awesome things to see in Aprils night sky is Asteroid 7 Iris. This asteroid is in the belt between Mars and Jupiter and at approximately 124 miles in diameter, 7 Iris is considered a remnant planetesimal, which is a big word that means if it had more of a gravitational pull it might have become a planet between Mars and Jupiter.
On the 30th it will be in opposition to the sun. If you go out around midnight wherever you live and look about 21 degrees above the southeastern horizon with a telescope you might catch a glimpse.
April 30: As the month flows closer to the 30th you will see Venus and Jupiter in the southeastern sky. Vying for position as the Morning Star. On April 30 and May 1 they will be less than 1 degree apart which should be a spectacular sight for those up at sunrise. Let us hope for clear skies this month!!