The night sky in April 2015

posted 1 Apr 2015, 07:44 by Pete Collins   [ updated 13 Jan 2016, 08:10 ]
by Anne Holt

Sunset 1 April 19.45,  30 April 20.34

Now that BST has been forced upon us, we have to wait even longer for the skies to darken each evening. By the time it gets really dark the beautiful area round the Winter Hexagon, so rich in bright stars, is sinking slowly in the West.

Winter Hexagon

Ursa Major is now high in the sky with the Plough overhead around midnight in the second half of the month. Follow the curve of the handle down to the orange coloured Arcturus, brightest star in the constellation Bootes the herdsman, and the 4th brightest in the night sky.
Leo is still riding high and the Summer Triangle of Vega (in Lyra), Deneb (Cygnus) and Altair (Aquila) is now rising in the east and visible in the early hours.

Planets

Venus
, in Taurus,  at mag -4.1 is still shining very brightly in the early evening Western sky. By month end it won't be setting until 4 hours after the sun. It is now so bright that it could possibly cast a faint shadow when seen from an area of total darkness. It will pass very close to the Pleiades open cluster on the 11th of the month.

Jupiter, in Cancer, mag -2.2, is second only to Venus in brightness.  It is due south high in the sky as darkness falls at the start of April, and is still visible until the early hours throughout the month, though lower in the sky by the end.  It will set around 5am in early April and 3am by month end. On 18th,between 02.28 and 02.36, Galilean moon Callisto will pass directly in front of Ganymede but it is not big enough to completely occult it.

Mars, in Aries, mag 1.4, is very low in the sky just after sunset in early April.   By month end it will set just over an hour after the sun and be very difficult to spot in the bright twilight.

Mercury, also in Aries, mag -1.3, is very low in the lightening morning sky at the start of April, then lost to view as it passes behind the sun.  It reappears, as a morning object, in the second half of the month.  On 22nd, it will be very close to Mars and much brighter.   It will be very close to the Pleiades on 30th.

Saturn, in Scorpio, mag 0.4,  rises about 2am in early April and by midnight at month end.  It is still very low in the southern sky but well worth a look through a telescope as the rings are now tilted by 25 degrees.

Uranus and Neptune can't be seen this month.

On 4th April there will be a total Lunar eclipse, but you'll only be able to see it if you happen to be visiting N or S America, Asia or some parts of Australia.    The rest of us will have to wait a few more months for our turn to stare at clouds!

Meteors

The April Lyrids, 16th to 25th April, peaking on the night of 22nd/23rd are worth a look if it's clear.  Best seen from midnight onwards. Good viewing conditions this year with the Moon out of the way. Typically from a reasonably dark site you should see around 10 per hour averaging mag +2, but the Lyrids are well known for also producing the occassional fireball.

Alpha Virginids,  7th - 18th April, peak 17th.  Slow moving meteors ZHR 5 to 10.

There are also several minor showers, with their radiant in Virgo, which could produce a combined ZHR of up to 10 in early to mid April.


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