As the days get longer and the clouds get thicker, we enter the Global Astronomy Month, making it as good a time to get some observing in as can be. As ever, this post is illustrated with a few sky charts showing midnight on the first, last and fifteenth day of the month. The dots represent brighter stars, green circles are star clusters, nebulae, galaxies and the like and the very brightest stars, the Moon and the planets are named when they appear. Sky charts provided using Stellarium.
The Moon will be in the last quarter phase on the 6th, new on the 14th, first quarter on the 21st and full on the 28th. On the 15th, it will be just above Mercury, very, very low in the West just after sun set.
The Lyrid meteor shower will be active on the night of the 22nd. It is not particularly active, with perhaps 15 meteors an hour expected. Best time to observe will be about 1-2am, and the first quarter Moon should’ve set by then, giving a relatively dark night.
Heavens above presently lists five comets above magnitude 12 and six asteroids above magnitude 10 in the hours of darkness. The comets are C/2009 O2 Catalina at 9.3 in the constellation of Perseus, 81P Wild 2 at 9.4 between Virgo and Libra, C/2009 K5 McNaught at 9.9 at the foot of Cygnus, C/2007 Q3 Siding Spring at 11.3 in Draco and 10P Tempel 2 at 11.8 in Sagittarius. The asteroids are 4 Vesta at 6.9 in Leo, 1 Ceres at 8.4 in Sagittarius, 2 Pallas at 8.6 in Serpens, 532 Herculina at 9.0 in Ursa Major, 9 Metis at 9.7 in Virgo and 3 Junoat 9.8 in Taurus, appearing just after sun set.
Mars remains the big thing in the sky this month. It is high in the south at sunset and shines at magnitude +0.2, falling to +0.7 by the end. Its angular size falls from 9 arcseconds to 7 arcseconds in the same period, making details hard to spot. On the 16th/18th, Mars will lie close to the Beehive Cluster and the Moon will pop by on the 21st.
Venus is now prominent in the evening skies just after sunset. Shining at magnitude -3.9, it is the brightest thing in the night sky after the Moon. It appears in the south-west once the Sun has gone down and has an angular diameter of 11 arcseconds, showing phases like the Moon.
Mercury will be pairing up with Venus for a short period. The two shine close to each other after sunset (Mercury considerably dimmer and smaller than Venus, but still showing phases at higher magnification). The two planets will shine closest on the 4th. Mercury will continue to rise until the 8th when it will turn back and head for the Sun. On the 15th it will encounter a thin crescent Moon and by the 21st it will have vanished into the Sun set.
Saturn is just past opposition, meaning it now rises in the south-east as the Sun sets. It presently shines at +0.6, varying to +0.8 by the end of the month. The angular size remains around 19 acrseconds, with the slender rings extending to 43 arcseconds. Those rings will get thinner and thinner until the end of June, when they’ll open up again. The bright moon Titan shines at 7.8 and will be easily visible in small scopes and binoculars (unless it is in front of or behind the planet at the chosen viewing time).
Jupiter has now popped out from behind the Sun and rises in the East fifty minutes before it at the start of the month, rising to two hours by the end. It shines at -2, but due to its low altitude at sun rise, it will be almost impossible to get any detail out of it. But its appearance does mean the chance to view all five naked eye planets over the course of a single night will be available until Mercury vanishes during the latter half of the month.
A few things outside the solar system
The Orion Nebula is an evening sight at sunset, when it and the Pleiades have reached good altitudes.
The Usual Stuff
If you want to watch satellites flaring or passing in the sky (even sometimes during the day), then go to Heavens Above to get times and directions. If you need assistance in deciding where things are in the sky, why not install the free program Stellarium, which does all the work for you? Finally, to avoid the dreaded clouds, Met Check gives a quick forecast and the Met satellites or other satellites can be used to track breaks in the cloud.
Stuart Atkinson and the Eddington Society will be hosting a beginner’s night on the 12th, with an array of astronomers sitting on a panel to answer your questions. This will be at 7pm in Kendal Museum.
The Eddington Society will also be out in force at Abbott Hall Park on the 21st for a public Sky Watch featuring the Moon, Saturn and Mars, starting at 8pm.
For young astronomers (ages 9-16) Space Explorers is run in Kendal Museum on the third Saturday of each month from 2:30-4:00 pm. The next edition is on the 24th when we will be talking about Venus. The Society for Popular Astronomy also has a sky map for young astronomers for April here.
Events up and down the country are available from the Global Astronomy Month website. It is also Yuri’s night on the 10th, when people party to celebrate the anniversary (actually on the 12th) of Gagarin’s first human flight into space. Plus why not pop along to the Eddington Society, which meets at Kendal Museum on the first Monday of each month (except April due to the bank holiday and beginner’s night)?
Don’t forget to check back here and on my twitter account for the latest astronomical events in this area.