Night sky in April Highlights

By Mike Glazier

The stars of the show for April will be Jupiter and the Lyrid meteor shower, and it is the meteor shower which we will look at first.

The peak, or the date upon which the highest number of meteors could be seen is the night of 22nd into the early hours of 23rd. The shower is named after the constellation Lyra or the ‘magic harp’ which, many if not most will know, is one of three which form the Summer triangle. The main component of Lyra is a white, magnitude 0.04 star called Vega which during the Summer months will be found overhead. At this time of the year however it is rising from a North-Easterly direction.

The shower is not a particularly active one since it only produces some 18 meteors per hour under good conditions, the plus side however is that the meteors are fast and often leave persistent trails.

The Moon during this time will be at ‘waning crescent’ so the observing conditions for those who enjoy meteor watching will be fairly good.

The comet responsible for the shower was comet C/1861 G1 or Thatcher

Constellations.

A quick look around the permanent members of the overhead skies, the constellation groups will reveal the fact that;

Cygnus (the Swan) will be seen rising close to Lyra in the North-East, coupled to this, one will begin to see the brighter regions of the milky way. Above Cygnus you will see Hercules provided that the sky from your particular sight is dark enough.

Polaris, the pole star, will for all intents and purposes be found in its familiar place to the North and is often used as a positioning marker for a person’s latitude. The degrees measured above a geometrical horizon to Polaris will give the observer’s individual latitude so this is quite an interesting piece of information to remember.

Auriga the charioteer with the -0.6 magnitude star Capella will be found again in the North-East, but Perseus will be ‘sinking’ below the northern horizon.

To the South the largest constellation will be Leo, and to the West one will still find Gemini the twins.

Arcturus the reddish star at magnitude -0.3 is the main component star of Bòòtes and can be easily found by drawing an imaginary line down from the ‘tail’ of the Plough

The Moon’s phases for the observers who will want to observe these celestial treasures are;

  • First quarter on 3rd of April,
  • Full Moon on11th and
  • Last quarter on 19th.
  • New Moon will be on 26th.
  • Apogee is on 15th
  • Perigee is on 27th

Planets.

Mercury  will reach greatest elongation 19.0º East on April 1st but will most probably be too low down at sunset as to be visible. I do not know many people who actually ‘source’ Mercury so I don’t suppose this will be too much of a hardship.

Venus has changed its place in the sky. It has lost pole position in the West at night and at magnitude -4.2 – 4.7 will, during April, be visible  low down towards the horizon to the East before sunrise.

Mars moves slowly during the month from Aires into Taurus but will be too close to the Sun to be visible.

Jupiter will move into opposition and into Virgo on April 7th, still extremely bright but fading slightly from magnitude  -2.5 to -2.4. The Moon will be very close to Jupiter and close to Spica during the early morning hours of April 11th

Last minute notes.

The Moon will be 0.7º S of  Regulus on 7th at 0456 hrs

The Moon will be 2.4ºS of Jupiter on 10th at 21.22 hrs

The Moon will be 9.7º N of Antares on 15th at 03.39 hrs

The Eta Aquarids meteor shower becomes active around 19th of the month but maximum doesn’t occur until May.

Happy viewing