Night Skies - April 2017

April Skies

This star chart shows the night sky for around 9PM in Mid April.

At the beginning of the month, the elusive planet Mercury will be found gracing the Western sky. On the 1st April, the planet will be at it’s furthest point from the Sun and setting around an hour or so after Sunset. It’s also at it’s brightest on this day but over the next 12 days, the planet will fade in brightness and drop back towards the Western horizon quite rapidly, so speed is the essence in spotting this twilight visitor.

Venus, long found blazing away in the SW sky over the past months has vanished from our evening skies totally….. to reappear low down in the Eastern dawn twilight and will be dominating the early morning sky until almost year end.

Mars is still visible in the low West after Sunset, but is slowly loosing the battle against the twilight sky and will be lost from view over the next couple of months. It is quite disappointing to view even in telescopes due to the Earth-Mars distance rapidly increasing. Middle of next year does promise a much better showing from Mars, although it will be during the “not really dark months” of June and July so you’ll have to stay up very late to observe the planet.

Jupiter on the other hand, is visible all through the dark hours at the moment. The brightest satellites and cloud belts can be seen in tripod mounted binoculars, and the bright Full Moon will be nearby on the nights of 10th and 11th April.

Saturn is the last planet on show, rising around 2AM, low in the SE sky. Unfortunately, the planet is at it’s lowest point in the Zodiac – the band of sky that “contains” the planets – so will not be high in the sky for this and for a number of years to come. However, binoculars will show a hint of the ring system and Titan, the brightest of Saturn’s satellite family although the full beauty of the planet it best appreciated with telescopic assistance.

Moving on to meteors, this month we do have a reasonable shower active and during the time of maxima, the Moon is pretty much out of the way. Look approx half way from the Eastern horizon to the overhead or Zenith position from midnight onwards around 21st, 22nd and 23rd April and you could spot some of the April Lyrid shower. This shower produces around 18 meteors per hour, but does occasionally surprise us this “outbursts” of enhanced activity. You just don’t know for certain exactly how many to expect. If you have a digital camera with wide angle lens, try some 30 sec exposures at a high ISO rating and as fast an f/ ratio as possible. Watch out for dew forming on the camera lens over time but persist, and you may snag a meteor or two if your lucky.

The other object to look out for if you’ve binoculars or a telescope is Comet 41/P Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak.  Although never quite making it to naked eye visibility, the comet will still be visible in binoculars the first half of the month, but will probably need telescopes to see it after then as it is decreasing in brightness quickly. A couple of charts are provided to show the comets movement amongst the constellations during the month.

In the night sky in general, the main winter signpost constellation of Orion is now dipping down in the SW sky, being replaced in the South with Leo – the Lion. Although not the most obvious of star patterns to make out, it does have the “reverse question mark” at the head, with the bright star Regulus at the base of the pattern. As a further aid to finding this constellation, the Moon will be nearby on the 6th April or simply look overhead for the familiar pattern of the Plough. Most people know to use the two “pointer” stars to find Polaris, the North star, but if you follow the pointers backwards, away from Polaris, then that will also lead you to Leo. Below and to the left of Leo is Virgo, currently host to the planet Jupiter.

Well, there’s a couple of things to wet your appetite with so good hunting, and as ever….. clear skies.

Supplied by MidWales Astronomy