Stars Above: April skies will be filled with special celestial sights

On April 7 at dawn look south for the eye-catching trio of the Moon joining Mars and Saturn. A.Fazekas, SkySafari

As we roll into the first full month of spring the starry skies are filled with special celestial sights that a parade of planets playing with Earth’s moon.

Throughout early April look for a stunningly close pairing of two, bright neighbouring worlds, Mars and Saturn. It’s easy to find these two planets that look like bright star-like objects perched halfway up the southern skies about an hour before sunrise.

Both planets are firmly nestled near a bright and distinct pattern of stars which look like, and are known as the Teapot located within the constellation Sagittarius. If you look carefully at both planets they definitely shine with almost the same brightness, but you will also surely notice their different colours. While Saturn shines with a golden-yellow hue, Mars has a distinct orange-red colouration. Throughout the first week of April, the two planets will appear separated by about one degree – which is equal to two lunar disks, making it an eye-catching sight. And look out for the moon to join the party on April 7 as it slides next to Saturn.

On April 18, face the low western sky at dusk and watch the thin crescent moon nestled within the V-shaped Hyades star cluster that marks the face of the Taurus, the bull constellation. The view will be particularly picturesque as the lunar disc slides dramatically close to the red-eye of the bull, the red giant star Aldebaran. While admiring Earth’s companion, notice that the moon’s unlit side is still visible due to Earthshine — reflected sunlight off of Earth’s oceans and clouds hitting the lunar disk and lighting it up.

Then get set for a sprinkle of meteors as the Lyrid shower peaks in the early morning hours of April 22. This year skywatchers will fortunately have the quarter moon set soon after midnight, leaving behind great viewing conditions before the pre-dawn peak hours of the shower. Under ideal, dark skies we can expect to anywhere between 15 to 20 shooting stars per hour.

Best tip for watching the show is to find a viewing location devoid of any direct lights or street lamps and has a clear view of the overhead skies. The darker your observing site, the more shooting stars you’ll get to see. Remember to dress warm, lie back on a reclining lawn chair and count your wishes.

Our tour of the sky with the moon continues on April 24 as it parks itself in the zodiacal constellation, Leo, the lion. Look towards high southern sky at local dusk to get to catch sight of the waxing gibbous moon pair up with the lead star Regulus.

Leo constellation is a traditional evening springtime target and is easily recognizable thanks to its backwards ‘question mark’ star pattern that marks the head of the celestial lion.

We wrap up our lunar encounters in the constellations Virgo and Libra. On April 28, the moon will be passing by the bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo. While this stellar pattern is not the brightest it is home to a vast collection of galaxies that are favourite for backyard telescopes. When looking at this part of the sky that is devoid of many bright stars, we are actually peering out of our own Milky Way Galaxy into the vast universe filled with countless number of other galaxies.

Then on April 30 the moon closes out the month by gliding off to next door constellation Libra and snuggling up with the king of all planets in our solar system, Jupiter.

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