April’s warm nights are especially bountiful this year. Mars is at opposition, shining brightly all night, and American skywatchers are perfectly placed for a lunar eclipse at mid-month. Leo springs high across the sky on April evenings, while Virgo follows a couple of hours behind the lion. The highlights of winter, Orion and Canis Major, get ready to exit the evening sky in the west.
This Week's Stargazing Tips
April 19: Bear’s Lodge
The stars of the Big Dipper are part of Ursa Major, the great bear. In a Kiowa story, the dipper’s seven stars represent sisters who were borne into the sky to escape their brother, who had been magically transformed into a bear.
April 20: Lyrid Meteor Shower
The Lyrid meteor shower should reach its peak tomorrow night. Under a dark sky, you might see up to a couple of dozen meteors per hour after midnight. The number of meteors increases closer to dawn, as your part of Earth turns into the meteor stream.
April 21: Last-Quarter Moon
The Moon will be at last quarter tonight. It aligns at a right angle to the line between Earth and the Sun, so sunlight illuminates one-half of the lunar hemisphere that faces our way.
April 22: Emptiness
It’s lonely here in the galactic suburbs. The distance to the Sun’s nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, is almost 29 million times the Sun’s diameter. At that scale, if you lived in a house that is 50 feet wide, your nearest neighbor would be farther than the Moon.
April 23: Time Bombs
Several time bombs are in view this evening. The list includes most of the bright stars of Orion, which is low in the west, plus Spica, the brightest star of Virgo, in the southeast. All of these stars are destined to explode as supernovae.
April 24: Moon and Venus
Venus, the “morning star,” perches just to the lower left of the crescent Moon at dawn tomorrow. As long as you have a clear eastern horizon you just can’t miss them.
April 25: 61 Virginis
61 Virginis is one of the nearest star systems with known planets. Under dark skies, the star is bright enough to see with the unaided eye. It is a little below Spica, Virgo’s brightest star, which is due south a couple of hours after sunset.
Check last week's tips if you missed a day.