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:
Mercury After Sunset - On April 1st, Mercury will reach its greatest eastern elongation of just under 20 degrees from the Sun, which means the planet will reach its highest point above Earth's horizon. Catch a glimpse of tiny Mercury in binoculars just above the western horizon right after sunset, or use a [telescope] for a closer look. Since Mercury is very small in the sky, locating it can be a challenge. 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!
Jupiter at Opposition - Gigantic Jupiter reaches opposition on April 7th, making it the best night of the year to explore the gas giant planet. While Jupiter can be detected in almost any size telescope, the most rewarding views of the gas giant planet and its four brightest moons can be found in larger refractor and reflector telescopes with moderate to high power eyepieces. Opposition occurs when a planet reaches its closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit. Since Jupiter will be directly opposite the Sun from Earth on April 7th, it will be visible all night long - rising at sunset and setting at sunrise. Take advantage of Jupiter's brightest night of the year and take a closer look at its striking cloud band "stripes" and four Galilean moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Use an [Orion Jupiter Observation Filter] to reveal cloud belt details and improve contrast in your views of the biggest planet in our solar system.
Jupiter and the Moon - Just a few days after reaching opposition, gas giant planet Jupiter pairs up with the Moon to make a pretty pairing in the night sky. Get outside at sunset on April 10th to see gas giant planet Jupiter appear as close as 2.4° South of the nearly Full Moon. Both Jupiter and the Moon will rise together over the eastern horizon just a few moments after sunset.
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!
International Dark Sky Week - From Saturday April 22nd through Friday April 28th, 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 presents an 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!
Lyrids Meteor Shower - Kick off International Dark Sky Week by getting outside after midnight on the night of April 22nd to enjoy the peak of the Lyrids Meteor Shower. Look for meteors to radiate outwards from the constellation Lyra after midnight on the 22nd into the early hours of April 23rd. The Lyrids is a medium shower which can produce about 20 meteors per hour during its peak. The waning crescent Moon will be out when shower activity peaks, but it shouldn't make it too difficult to spot meteors. The Lyrids shower often produces meteors with impressive dust trails that can last several seconds. 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.
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.