Three bright stars ride high this month, dominating the major constellations of the spring skies. Leading the way is Regulus in Leo, with Virgo’s leading star Spica to the lower left, with orange Artcurus in Bootes lying above. We are treated to a meteor display on the 21st, to 23rd All three of our nearest neighbour planets are on view in the evening sky; Mercury, Venus and Mars. Three bright stars ride high this month. Leading the way is Regulus in Leo, with Virgo’s leading star Spica to the lower left and orange Arcturus in Bootes lying above.
April also sees the seasonal change from winter constellations to spring constellations is more or less complete.
The Plough is practically overhead, with the ‘W’ of Cassiopeia is at its lowest. The stars Vega and Deneb, which form two thirds of the summer triangle, are rising in the northeast although they have yet to become prominent.
The main spring stars can now easily be found. In the south is the constellation Leo (the Lion), which looks like a giant backwards question mark, and at its base is the bright star Regulus. To find Regulus use the two pointers in the plough and rather than drawing a line to the North Star, go in the opposite direction.
The plough can also help us find two other bright stars in the spring sky. Using the handle of the Plough draw a curve round and down. This line will reach the bright orange star Arcturus in the constellation of Bootes (the Herdsman). If the line is continued further it will reach the bright blue-white star Spica in the constellation of Virgo (the Virgin).
The inner most planet will be putting on its best show of the year this month. You can find Mercury just above the horizon, well to the lower right of Venus. It will be dipping below the horizon around 10pm.Mercury starts the month at magnitude –1.1, but fades as it moves upwards into darker skies. By the time it reaches its maximum elongation on 11th April it will have faded to magnitude +0.1. It continues to fade from sight as it drops into the twilight by the third week in April.
The evening star is radiant in the western sky after sunset, with a magnitude of –4.1. Visible until midnight it will appear truly dazzling against the pitch black night sky. On 11th April, Venus passes to the left of the Pleiades star cluster. Mid month it is in the region of Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster. The crescent Moon lies near Venus on the nights of 22nd and 23rd of the month.
The red planet can be located in the constellation of Gemini. At magnitude +1.2 it sets below the horizon about 2.30am. The crescent Moon is just to the right of Mars on the 25th of this month. By the end of April Mars is approaching the twin stars Castor and Pollux. All three will be about the same brightness.
The gas giant planet will be lost in the Sun’s glare this month.
In the morning sky, you will find Saturn rising around 5am and moving upwards in the sky as the month progresses. The ringed planet lies in the constellation of Aquarius, and shines at magnitude +1.0. The crescent Moon is nearby on the 16th of the month.
Located in the constellation of Aries not far away from Mercury. It all will be falling below the horizon around 10pm. At a faint magnitude of +5.8, Uranus will be difficult to spot and it too disappears into the dusk glow in the second half of the month.
The outer most planet will be too close to the Sun for observation this month.
Located low down in the south west in the constellation of Capricornus. At magnitude +14.5, this distance world rises at 5.30 am and will be visible until sunrise.
The largest object in the asteroid belt can be located in the constellation of Coma Berenices this month, at magnitude +7.8. It will be visible for a very short time from about 5.30am until sunrise.
Meteor Showers :-
On the night of the 22nd and into the 23rd of April will be the maximum of the Lyrid meteor shower. This will be an excellent year for observing them, as the Moon will be out of the way. These shooting stars appear to emanate from the constellation Lyra as debris from Comet Thatcher burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere and they often leave glowing trails of dust.
Special Events :-
11th April – The Pleiades lie just to the right of brilliant Venus.
16th April – Before dawn, Saturn lies immediately above the crescent Moon.
22nd April – A thin crescent Moon lies to the lower right of brilliant Venus; further down towards the horizon you may spot the Pleiades.
23rd April – Venus hangs just below the crescent Moon, in a stunning twilight pairing.
25th April – The Moon lies near Mars, beneath Castor and Pollux.
Phases of the Moon for April:-
Full Moon 6th April
Last quarter 13th April
New Moon 20th April
First quarter 27th April