Every month, AY About You outlines the night sky in these easy-to-digest guides. And stargazing in April is another one for the books.
This month features local astrophotography from Arkansan Tony Milligan. You can find more of his spectacular photos on his website, Captured in Time.
Third Quarter: April 4
New Moon: April 11
First Quarter: April 20
Full Moon: April 26*
The full moon of April will be a Super Pink Moon; pink after the flowers in bloom this season and “super” for it reaching a closer part of its orbit to Earth, making it appear larger in the sky.
Lyrids Meteor Shower: April 16-25
Peak night: April 22
Formed by the dust grains from comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, the Lyrids is an average shower that produces around 20 meteors per hour at its peak. The shower will pick up at around 9:30 p.m. and last until the early morning hours. The moon approaching its full phase might outshine a few meteors, but there should still be plenty available for viewing.
Planets and Special Events
April 4: Asteroid 9 Metis at Opposition
On Easter Sunday, the asteroid 9 Metis will reach its opposition and perigee, or point directly opposite from the sun and closest to Earth, making it brighter than usual and most apt for viewing. Metis is one of the larger objects in the asteroid belt but still requires a telescope to view, even at opposition. Look to the constellation Virgo after 9:15 p.m.; it will reach its highest point in the sky at around 1:30 a.m.
April 6, 7: Close Approach of the Moon, Saturn and Jupiter
On back-to-back nights, our moon will have close encounters of the gas kind — namely, Saturn and Jupiter. On April 6, Saturn will come within 4 degrees of the Moon in our sky, and on April 7, Jupiter within 5 degrees of it. Both occurrences will happen in the early morning hours in the southeast.
April 17: Moon and Mars Conjunction
An even greater experience will happen between the Moon and Mars about a week later. The Moon and Mars will have as close a conjunction as Saturn and Jupiter in December, which was dubbed the Christmas Star. At around 8 p.m. on this night, they will be within a tenth of a degree of each other, fitting both objects into the same view field of a telescope or pair of binoculars. Look to the western horizon; both will be very high in the sky and well-placed for viewing.
April 23: C/2020 R4 (ATLAS) at Perigee
The comet C/2020 R4 (ATLAS) will reach its perigee this month, or closest approach to earth. A viewing will likely require a decent pair of binoculars or telescope, and the comet will move through five different constellations this month. In the Sky has a great progression chart to track its nightly position.
In the News
NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) have paired up for a challenge to build food systems for Mars missions and other deep-space destinations.
The Deep Space Food Challenge aims to generate new food production technologies or systems, which would have little waste produced or resources required. Astronauts should be able to focus on their missions and have food production as only a secondary requirement, according to challenge documents, so that they can focus on science — the main purpose of their work in space.
No public events this month. Stay home and stay well.
If you’re still itching for more space to curb your boredom this month, give Celestia and Stellarium a try. Both are free to use and provide unique and interactive experiences with the stars, planets and more.
The best stargazing results are always going to be under the darkest of skies. So, if you can, find a place as far away from city lights as possible when stargazing in April.