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Night sky guide for April 2015

night-sky-guide-for-april-2015

This month is marked by the third of four total lunar eclipses separated by approximately 6 months – tetrad – which will occur at 12:00 UTC on April 4, 2015. The Moon will gradually get darker and then take on a rusty or blood red color. The eclipse will be visible throughout most of North America, South America, eastern Asia, and Australia. 

Some shooting stars associated with the Virginid meteor shower are expected to be visible each night from April 7 to 18, however, this shower will reach its maximum rate of activity on April 12 when the Moon will present minimal interference. The maximum rate of meteors expected to be visible from a dark location is around 5 per hour (ZHR).

Lyrids, an average meteor shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at its peak will reach its maximum rate of activity on the night of April 22nd and morning of the 23rd. These meteors can sometimes produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The first quarter moon will set shortly after midnight, leaving fairly dark skies for the what could be a good show.

  • April 1 – M104 is well placed for observation. The sombrero galaxy (M104, NGC 4594) will be well placed for observation. At a declination of -11°37', it is easiest to see from the Southern Hemisphere. At magnitude 9.0, M104 is quite faint, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

  • April 4 – Total lunar eclipse – 12:00 UTC. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes completely through the Earth's dark shadow, or umbra. During this type of eclipse, the Moon will gradually get darker and then take on a rusty or blood red color. The eclipse will be visible throughout most of North America, South America, eastern Asia, and Australia. This will be the third of four lunar eclipses separated by approximately 6 months, a rare phenomenon astronomers call a "tetrad".   (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)

Video courtesy of Science@NASA

  • April 4 – Full Moon – 12:05 UTC. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Pink Moon because it marked the appearance of the moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the first spring flowers. This moon has also been known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Growing Moon, and the Egg Moon. Many coastal tribes called it the Full Fish Moon because this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn.

  • April 4 – M94 is well placed for observation. M94, a spiral galaxy in Canes Venatici, will be well placed for observation and easiest to see from the Southern Hemisphere. It cannot be seen from latitudes much south of 28°S. At magnitude 9.0, M94 is quite faint, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

  • April 5 – NGC 4755 is well placed for observation. Across much of the world the jewel box open star cluster (NGC 4755, also known as the kappa Crucis cluster) in Crux will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -60°19', it is easiest to see from the Southern Hemisphere and cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 9°N. At magnitude 4.2, NGC4755 is tricky to make out with the naked eye except from a dark site, but is visible through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

  • April 7 – C/2012 F3 (PANSTARRS) reaches perihelion. Comet C/2012 F3 (PANSTARRS) will make its closest approach to the Sun, at a distance of 3.46 AU.

  • April 8 – Conjunction between the Moon and Saturn. The Moon and Saturn will make a close approach, passing within 2°08' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -12.4, and Saturn at mag 0.9, both in the constellation Scorpius. They will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • April 12 – Conjunction between Venus and M45. Venus and M45 will make a close approach, passing within 2°34' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, Venus will be at mag -4.5, and M45 at mag 1.6, both in the constellation Taurus. They will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • April 12 – Virginid meteor shower. Some shooting stars associated with the Virginid meteor shower are expected to be visible each night from April 7 to 18, however, it will reach its maximum rate of activity on April 12. The maximum rate of meteors expected to be visible from a dark location is around 5 per hour (ZHR). The Moon will be 23 days old at the time of peak activity, and so will present minimal interference.

  • April 13 – NGC 5128 is well placed for observation. Across much of the world Centaurus A (NGC 5128) will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -43°01', it is easiest to see from the Southern Hemisphere and cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 26°N. At magnitude 7.8, NGC5128 is quite faint, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

  • April 13 – 18 – International Dark Sky Week. International Dark Sky Week is held during the week of the new moon in April. It is a week during which people worldwide turn out their outdoor lights in order to observe the wonders of the night sky without light pollution.

  • April 14 – M51 is well placed for observation. The whirlpool galaxy (M51, NGC 5194) will be well placed for observation. At a declination of +47°12', it is easiest to see from the Northern Hemisphere and cannot be seen from latitudes much south of 22°S. At magnitude 9.0, it will be quite faint, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

  • April 17 – M3 is well placed for observation. The globular cluster M3 (NGC 5272) in Canes Venatici will be well placed for observation. At a declination of +28°22', it is easiest to see from the Northern Hemisphere and cannot be seen from latitudes much south of 41°S. At magnitude 6.2, M3 is quite faint, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

  • April 16 – M83 is well placed for observation. Across much of the world the southern pinwheel galaxy (M83, NGC 5236), a face-on spiral galaxy in Hydra, will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At magnitude 8.2, M83 is quite faint, and certainly not visible to the naked eye, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

  • April 18 – New Moon – 18:56 UTC. The be Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This will be the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

  • April 22, 23 – Lyrid meteor shower. This is an average meteor shower produced by dust particles left behind by comet C/1861 G1 Tatcher, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at its peak. The shower runs annually from April 16 – 25 and this year it peaks on the night of the 22nd and morning of the 23rd. These meteors can sometimes produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The first quarter moon will set shortly after midnight, leaving fairly dark skies for the what could be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Lyra, but can appear anywhere in the sky. 

  • April 25 – International Astronomy Day. Astronomy Day is an annual event intended to provide a means of interaction between the general public and various astronomy enthusiasts, groups and professionals. The theme of Astronomy Day is "Bringing Astronomy to the People," and on this day astronomy and stargazing clubs and other organizations around the world will plan special events. You can find out about special local events by contacting your local astronomy club or planetarium. You can also find more about Astronomy Day by checking the Web site for the Astronomical League.

  • April 28 – α–Scorpiid meteor shower. Some shooting stars associated with this shower are expected to be visible each night from April 20 to May 19. The maximum rate of meteors expected to be visible from a dark location is around 5 per hour (ZHR). The Moon will be 10 days old at the time of peak activity, and being so close to Full Moon, will severely limit the observations.

Video courtesy of Hubble Space Telescope

Sources: InTheSky (Dominic Ford), SeaSky

​Featured image credits: Science@NASA; Donovan Shortey.

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