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What's In The Sky This Month

Explore the starry skies of April! There will be a number of intriguing celestial sights to enjoy with the help of a binocular or telescope. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Total Lunar Eclipse - The first and most fleeting total lunar eclipse of 2015 occurs in the very early morning hours of April 4th, and will be visible throughout most of North and South America, eastern Asia and Australia. The Full Moon will become eclipsed as it passes through the Earth's dark shadow, which will make the Moon's disk appear to turn a dark reddish orange color. While the partial umbral eclipse begins at 3:16am PDT and ends at 6:45am PDT, the total eclipse period when the Moon appears darkest will last less than five minutes between 4:58am PDT and 5:03am PDT, so you'll want to plan ahead and either stay up late or set an alarm for this this fast-paced event. In fact, this is expected to be the shortest total lunar eclipse of the century!
  • Lyrids Meteor Shower - During the evenings of April 22nd and 23rd, the April Lyrids Meteor Shower is expected to peak. Scan the skies near the constellation Lyra after midnight on the 22nd for your best chance to see meteors. The Lyrids is a medium shower which can produce about 20 meteors per hour during its peak. You don't need a telescope to enjoy the show - just sit back in a comfy chair and watch bright dust trails flare across the sky as meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Lyra.
  • International Dark Sky Week - During the New Moon week of April 13th-18th, celebrate International Dark Sky Week by keeping your outdoor lights turned off to reduce light pollution. Endorsed by the International Dark-Sky Association and the American Astronomical Society, International Dark Sky Week is a welcome opportunity to appreciate the beautiful night sky without the adverse effects of light pollution from outdoor lighting. Turn out those lights and enjoy views of the starry sky from your own backyard!
  • April 25th is International Astronomy Day - This annual event brings astronomy to the attention of the general public through interactions with various amateur hobbyists, astronomy clubs, and professional astronomers. Special Astronomy Day events are planned all over planet Earth on April 25th to follow the theme of "Bringing Astronomy to the People." Find out about local Astronomy Day events by contacting your local astronomy club or planetarium.
  • Last Call for Giant Jupiter - By mid-April, Jupiter will be approaching the horizon around 9-10pm, but the gas giant will still be high enough in the sky after sunset for some satisfying views. Bigger refractor and reflector telescopes and moderate to high power eyepieces will deliver the most rewarding views of Jupiter before it leaves the night sky for the season. Use an affordable Orion Jupiter Observation Filter to reveal cloud surface details and improve your view of the biggest planet in our solar system.
  • Spring Brings Galaxy Season! - April skies provide stargazers with ample opportunities to observe far-off galaxies. With the Virgo Galaxy Cluster and bright galaxies in the Big Dipper and Coma Berenices well-positioned in the sky, April evenings are truly a gift for galaxy hounds. Check out a few of our favorite galaxies: M101, M51, and M106 near the Big Dipper asterism; M86, M87, M84 and M104 in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster; and don't miss NGC 4565, M64, M99, and M100 in the constellation Coma Berenices. While a humble 80mm telescope will show most of the galaxies we mention, a big reflector like our SkyQuest XT10 Classic Dobsonian will provide jaw-dropping views of these distant galaxies!
  • April's Deep Sky Challenge: Leo Galaxy Cluster - You'll want a big reflector telescope and dark, clear skies to go after this month's challenge object; the compact galaxy cluster Hickson 44, also named the Leo Quartet, or Galaxy Cluster NGC 3190, after its brightest member. This grouping of distant galaxies is located less than halfway between the stars Adhafera (Zeta Leonis) and Algieba (Gamma Leonis) along the sickle asterism of constellation Leo. This grouping of faint galaxies is quite challenging to detect in telescopes, so we recommend using a larger Dobsonian reflector to find out how many galaxies you can see.

 

All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution is minimal and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.