April night sky offers many hours of delight for all stargazers.
Surely you don't want to miss the oldest known meteor shower, or the best Saturn has to offer...
Lets take a look at some stargazing highlights this month.
In early April, four planets grace the sky at nightfall.
Jupiter will be low in the west after sunset in early April, almost directly below Venus and much less bright.
A telescope won't reveal much detail because of the planet's low altitude. Each night Jupiter will appear lower, and by month's end it will disappear into
Venus blazes just above Jupiter in the west. Use a telescope to see its crescent
In the south, Mars is already climbing high. It will remain visible into the early
Venus will dominate the western evening sky in April, remaining high above the horizon long after nightfall and setting four hours after the sun.
The brilliant planet will glide past the Pleiades star cluster during the first few days of the month.
To the unaided eye, the glare of Venus will seem to overwhelm the Pleiades, but binoculars will give a beautiful view of both the planet and the star cluster.
Saturn will shine low in the east in the evening but climb higher during the night.
On April 15th, Saturn reaches opposition, meaning it is opposite the Sun in
Earth’s sky. It is also closer to Earth than it’ll be the rest of the year, making it
appear slightly bigger and brighter.
The bright yellow planet will be opposite the sun in our sky on April 15 ("at opposition"), when it will rise at sunset and be visible all night.
The best views through a telescope will be when it is highest in the southern sky in the middle of the night. Saturn will outshine nearby Spica,
the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden.
Saturn's biggest moon, Titan, will be due south of the planet on April 18 and due north on April 10 and 26.
Mars will come into view at dusk early in the month, halfway up the southeastern sky in the constellation Leo the Lion. By late April,
it will begin the evening high in the south. The orange-red planet will easily outshine Leo's brightest star, blue-white Regulus.
Now just a month past opposition, Mars will be a fine object for viewing with a telescope, especially early in the month when it will appear larger.
Mercury will have its poorest morning appearance of 2012 during April, rising less than an hour before the sun all month for observers at mid-northern latitudes.
It will be just 4 degrees above the eastern horizon a half hour before sunrise, difficult to see in bright twilight even with binoculars.
Constellations and Deep-Sky Objects
Late in the evening, high in the northern sky lies the Great Bear, Ursa Major.
The constellation of Ursa Major contains the well-known star pattern, the Big
It resembles a large drinking cup with a handle.
The two stars that make up the front side of the cup are called “pointer stars”
because they point toward the star Polaris, also known as the North Star.
The Big Dipper overflows with interesting stars and deep-sky objects.
The stars Mizar and Alcor make up a double-star system that can be seen
without a telescope. In ancient times, when Mizar and Alcor were even closer
together, they were used as a test of keen eyesight.
M81 and M82 are a magnificent pair of galaxies, showpieces of the northern
night sky. M82 has an irregular shape, bestowed by a collision with its larger
Turning to the south, we see Leo, the Lion, heralding the coming of spring. In
Greek mythology, Leo is the great beast slain by Hercules.
The star Denebola, which in Arabic means “tail,” represents exactly that.
The bright star Regulus is the heart of the Lion.
Leo has several galaxies in his belly.
M65, M66, and NGC 3628 make up the “Leo Triplet,” a lovely grouping of
galaxies easily seen with a telescope.
Close by is another group. M95 and M96 are large spiral galaxies.
Between the Big Dipper and the head of Leo are three pairs of bright stars known
to ancient Arab astronomers as “The Three Leaps of the Gazelle.”
Lyrid Meteor shower
The Lyrid meteor shower will peak on the night of April 21-22 in a moonless sky, offering ideal viewing conditions.
For observers in North America, about 20 meteors per hour should be visible in a clear, dark sky.
The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but they will seem to come from a point called the radiant in the constellation Lyra the Harp,
which gives the shower its name. Lyra's bright white star Vega will be almost at the radiant, and the meteor count should be highest when Vega is
well above the eastern horizon between late evening and dawn.
Under a dark sky, you can expect to see up to 20 bright meteors per hour.
The moon will be full on April 6, at third quarter on April 13, new on April 21 and at first quarter on April 29.
A great deal of energy and money is wasted on inefficient, improperly directed outdoor lighting.
To help call attention to this problem of light pollution, the International Dark-Sky Association encourages people in the United States to turn off
unnecessary outside lighting during National Dark-Sky Week, which will be from April 14 to 20 this year. More information is available at the
Enjoy your stargazing and if you take any pictures of the evening planets or the Lyrid meteor shower, remember
to send the images to us so we can publish them.
Cosmic Eating Machines Capture And Swallow Binary Star Partners
“We found black holes grow enormously as a result of sucking in captured binary star partners,” says physics and astronomy Professor Ben Bromley,
lead author of the study, which is set for online publication April 2 in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
A study led by a University of Utah astrophysicist found a new explanation for the growth of supermassive black holes in the center of most galaxies:
they repeatedly capture and swallow single stars from pairs of stars that wander too close.
"The Most Profound Mystery In All Of Science" -
Little is known about this force and its its repulsive gravity, which is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate.
The riddles of dark matter and cosmic inflation, along with dark energy, these are the three pillars of modern cosmological theory,"
and none of them can be explained with physics that we know," Michael Turner, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics says.
"Ordinary" Black Hole Discovered "Close By"
An ‘ordinary’ black hole in the 12 million light year-distant galaxy Centaurus A. This is the first time that
a normal-size black hole has been detected away from the immediate vicinity of our own Galaxy, an international team of scientists report.
Intimate Connection Between Black Holes And New-Born Stars
Astronomers have known for some time that black holes and supermassive black holes accretion and star formation appear intimately connected.
However, it does not mean that powerful gravitational forces of the black holes disrupt surrounding material in their vicinity.
On the contrary, a black hole seems to be helping stars to form.
Mercury Surprises Scientists
On March 17, MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space Environment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) completed its one-year primary mission, orbiting Mercury, capturing nearly 100,000 images, and recording data
that reveals new information about the planet's core, topography, and the mysterious radar bright material in the permanently shadowed areas near the poles.
New Kepler Explorer:
View The 1,790 Distant Planetary Systems - For Free!
Armchair explorers of the cosmos can now have at their fingertips the nearly 2,000 distant planetary systems discovered by NASA's Kepler Mission.
Now available for free from the iTunes App Store, Kepler Explorer was developed through the OpenLab initiative at UC Santa Cruz,
which brought together faculty and students in astrophysics, art, and technology for a summer institute last year.
Super Massive Black Holes Lurking In The Hearts Of Galaxies
Supermassive black holes are the most destructive force in the Universe, with a compact energy source of enormous strength and a mass of an order of magnitude between 105 and 1010 (hundreds of thousands and tens of billions) of solar masses!
They are so bizarre that until recently scientists did not believe they existed.
Though the universe is filled with billions upon billions of stars, the discovery of a single variable star in 1923 altered the
course of modern astronomy. And, at least one famous astronomer of the time lamented that the discovery had shattered his world view.
This record breaking wind is moving about 20 million miles per hour - about 3% the speed of light and may be carrying away much
more material than the black hole is actually capturing.
This is nearly ten times faster than had ever been seen from a stellar-mass black hole, and matches some of the fastest winds
generated by supermassive black holes, objects millions or billions of times more massive.
Astronomical Mystery - Tremendous Explosion And Appearance Of Odd Rings
Twenty five years ago, on 1987 February 23, the brightest supernova of modern times was observed in the Large Magellanic Cloud.
The collision occurred at speeds near 60 million kilometers per hour and shock-heats the ring material causing it to glow.
Over time, astronomers have watched and waited for the expanding debris from this tremendous stellar explosion to crash into previously expelled material...
The Wandering Stars
In ancient civilizations, people pondered the meanings of the stars, watching for clues to their survival: the beginning of planting and
harvesting times, the seasons, and even portents of danger.
They soon noticed that certain stars didn't stay in place, but wandered amongst the fixed star field.