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:
- International Dark Sky Week - During the New Moon week of April 4th-10th, celebrate International Dark Sky Week by keeping your outdoor lights turned off after sunset 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!
- Jupiter Continues to Impress - Gas Giant planet Jupiter will still be high enough in the April night sky for great views through most of the month. Bigger refractor and reflector telescopes and moderate to high power eyepieces will deliver the most rewarding views of Jupiter and its four brightest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Speaking of moons, there will be five opportunities in April to observe double shadow transits, when two of Jupiter's moons will cast their shadows on the planet's cloudy surface as seen from Earth. Catch these transits on April 1st from 20:16-21:19 UT (Io and Europa), April 3rd from 15:09-15:49 UT (Io and Callisto), April 5th from 9:36-10:17 UT (Io and Europa), April 8th from 22:54-23:14 UT (Io and Europa), and an April 12th from 12:11-12:14 UT (Io and Europa). Use an affordable Orion Jupiter Observation Filter to reveal cloud belt details and improve contrast in your views of the biggest planet in our solar system.
- Mercury After Sunset - On April 18th, Mercury will be at its greatest eastern elongation of just under 20 degrees from the Sun, which means it will be at its highest point above the horizon. Catch a glimpse of tiny Mercury in binoculars or telescopes just above the western horizon right after sunset. Since Mercury is very small in the sky, it can be a challenge to locate. Try looking for a bright "star" in the western sky that doesn't appear to twinkle as much as surrounding stars. Chances are you've found Mercury!
- Lyrids Meteor Shower - On the night of April 22nd into the early morning of the 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. The Full Moon of April 22nd will make it somewhat challenging to see as many meteors as in previous years, but it's still worth a try. 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.
- Saturn, Mars and Antares - Starting at about 8:00 UT from April 22nd into early May, planets Saturn and Mars will appear relatively close to one another in the night sky, just north of bright star Antares in the Constellation Scorpius. From April 24th through the 26th, the Moon joins the party to make a gorgeous grouping in the sky.
- 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.
Talented astrophotographer Richard S. captured this ethereal image of M104, the Sombrero Galaxy, by combining multiple stacks of 120 and 240-second exposures. This great galaxy pic was captured by Richard in Tampa, Florida. Thanks for the great astrophoto Richard!
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 and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.