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What's in the Sky - April 2024

Total Solar Eclipse!
Unless you've been living in a cave without TV or internet (which most caves lack), you already know that on April 8 a total solar eclipse will grace the sky from a narrow swath of North America running from Mexico through parts of 15 U.S. states from Texas to Maine, and into eastern Canada. Most parts of those countries will enjoy a partial solar eclipse, which is also cool to witness, though admittedly much less spectacular than totality! Make sure in the final days leading up to the eclipse to practice observing and photographing the Sun with the gear you will use for the actual event.

We hope you enjoy this rare celestial spectacle, because the next total solar eclipses visible from the continental United States will not occur until August 23rd, 2044 (in parts of Montana and N. Dakota only) and August 12th, 2045 (in parts of 13 states).

If you haven't already, download our free solar eclipse viewer's guide.

New Moon, Dark Skies
Take advantage of the dark (nighttime) skies provided by the New Moon on April 8 to scope out the many star clusters, galaxies, and other deep-sky gems April has to offer. A few nights before and after the 8th, when the Moon is just a sliver, will also provide excellent opportunities for plying the night skies.

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks
Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is expected to brighten a bit in April as it makes its closest approach to the Sun on the 21st. Early in the month will be your best chance to see and photograph it, as it's sinking closer to the horizon in the early evening and the sky stays brighter longer. Look low in the west-northwest. The comet is currently at naked-eye visibility, at least from a dark sky. It sure has been a picturesque comet in the photographs folks have posted in March! Will it be visible during totality, when the sky darkens, on April 8th? Our bet is yes — about 25 degrees from the eclipsed Sun!

Spring Galaxy Season's in Full Swing
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 The Sombrero (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 mentioned, a big reflector like our SkyLine 12" Dobsonian will provide jaw-dropping views of these distant beauties!

Lyrid Meteor Shower
Get outside on the night of April 21 to enjoy the Lyrid Meteor Shower. Look for meteors to radiate outwards from the constellation Lyra at the peak of the shower, which is after midnight (early hours of April 22). The Lyrids is not as prolific a shower as some others, producing an average of 18 meteors per hour typically. A nearly full, waxing gibbous Moon will, unfortunately, wash out all but the brightest fireballs. If you plan to give it a shot, know that you don't need a telescope to enjoy the show — just sit back in a comfy chair and scan the sky.

April's Deep Sky Challenge: M87 in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster
This is a great challenge for experienced observers. It's been said that the jet of light, famous in photographs, emanating from the core of M87 can be observed visually in telescopes possibly as small as 10" from a dark sky location, on the clearest of nights. If you're up for the challenge, try to view M87 as high in the sky as possible, and use as much magnification as the conditions permit. Look for a short streak of light emanating from the core, slightly brighter than the surrounding haze. The key to this challenge is finding the right viewing conditions. When trying on different nights, note the visibility of the stellar core — this is a good indicator of the quality of the night and the suitability of a particular eyepiece. A Barlow lens like the Orion Shorty 1.25" 2x Barlow Lens will get you twice as close for a high-magnification look. With some patience and a dark, clear night, you may just find Virgo's hidden treasure. Good luck and clear skies!

This challenge is adapted from "Focus on Downtown Virgo" by Observing at Skyhound at

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.