Fred Barrett | Apr 03, 2019
Cover your head this month. We have a major meteor shower hitting our skies. The Lyrid shower peaks this month on the night of the 22nd/23rd. As many as 20 meteors per hour are possible. Sadly, this shower peak occurs 3 days past full moon (waning gibbous) and fainter meteors will be lost in the moon’s glare. None the less, there should be enough bright ones to make observing well worth it. The active period for the shower is April 14 to 30 and any night during this time will provide meteors to view. The radiant or the source direction from which the meteors come from is just right of the constellation Lyra, but meteors can be visible all over the sky.
Prominent in the south this month is the great constellation, Leo. Pull out your star charts and go hunting just below its middle to find a cluster of galaxies. To the east of Leo is the constellation Virgo, and on its right side is another large number of Galaxies to investigate as well. At least a small telescope is required to find these objects. If you are up for the hunt, bagging as many of these as you can is quite a thrill. To the west of Leo is the constellation Cancer. Near its centre is the Beehive star cluster. Under a dark sky, you can even make it out with the naked eye.
In the evening sky, look to the west to find Mars, but all the action is in the early morning sky. Jupiter is in the south and its dancing moons always delight the eye. Saturn is up in the southeast after 3am early in the month, and after 1am by month’s end. It rises to 20 to 25 degrees before the Sun washes it out. Saturn’s rings are always a thrill and they tilt to 24 degrees in mid April. You will need at least a 4-inch scope to pick out its moons. Just before twilight brushes the horizon, Venus makes its appearance. It will rise earlier as the month progresses. Even though it is a fight with rising Sun, Venus in the east is so bright that it still manages to shine through. Here’s a difficult challenge: The planet Neptune is 0.3 degrees on the right side of Venus on the 10th. The best shot at a view is about half an hour before sunrise. It will be in the same field of view as Venus. Use low power in your telescope and good luck. Also, Mercury will be 5 degrees east of Venus/Neptune as an added bonus. A low unobstructed horizon is a must for the above challenges.
April 5: New Moon.
April 10: Venus passes 0.3 degrees south of Neptune.
April 12: First quarter Moon.
April 16: The Moon is at perigee – 362,000 Kms.
April 19: Full Moon. This Moon is called the Full Pink Moon. Native peoples named it after a pink flower that bloomed in April. It’s also known as the Full Grass Moon because, well, grass starts to grow. Get out the lawn mower and get it ready!
April 22/23: Lyrid meteor shower peaks.
April 23: Just before dawn, the Moon passes just north of Jupiter.
April 26: Last quarter Moon.
April 28: The Moon is at apogee – 402,200 Kms.
April 30: The Moon passes 3 degrees south of Neptune about 4am. This offers another chance to find Neptune.
That’s a wrap. Keep looking up!
“The Beginner’s Observing Guide by Leo Enright is an invaluable companion for adventures in the sky. It also contains useful star charts. It can be ordered from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada at www.rasc.ca/publications. A subscription to our very own excellent Canadian astronomy magazine “SkyNews” can be arranged at the RASC website as well.