Let’s hope those notorious ‘April Showers’ stay far away! April is going to be a great month to get out and go stargazing. From close encounters between various planets and our moon to a whole spate of solar system viewing opportunities, there are plenty of April night sky events to mark on your calendar. Don’t forget too that the Milky Way is rising for the northern hemisphere, so other nights are good too even if one of these events isn’t happening!
If you’re looking for one particular night to head to a dark sky location, mark your calendar for April 23rd. On this night, you can enjoy the year’s first major meteor shower with the near perfect darkness of a new moon. It’s also an important day here on earth: STG founder Valerie’s birthday. Her birthday wish is that you’ll all go stargazing and appreciate what the night sky has to offer this month.
If you need a telescope to help enjoy this month’s night sky events, we have a guide to the best stargazing telescopes. Read on for the best April night sky events!
April 2 – Juno at Opposition
April starts off strong in the week leading up to the full moon (April 7th). On the night of April 2nd, the asteroid Juno will be at opposition – meaning it will be brightly lit from earth’s perspective relative to the asteroid and sun.
Juno can be seen in the constellation Virgo, and will be visible most of the night. It will reach its highest point in the sky around midnight local time, no matter your location on the northern hemisphere.
April 3 – Close Approach of Venus & M45
Messier 45, more commonly known as the Pleiades, will receive a planetary visitor from our perspective on the night of April 3rd. After sunset on this evening, bright Venus will pass within 0°15′ of the open star cluster. Even first-time stargazers can usually spot the Pleiades easily – Venus will shine an extra spotlight on this Messier object in the constellation Taurus.
April 14 – Close Approach of the Moon, Jupiter & Pluto
Mid-April, the Moon enters its third quarter phase and moves into center stage with several planets (and dwarf planets!) in close proximity.
The first such night of these close approaches is April 14th. On this night, the Moon will make a close approach with both Jupiter and Pluto. All three will appear within 1°59′ of one another, too wide for a single telescope view – but easily viewed with binoculars. If you want to spot distant Pluto though, you’ll need a telescope at least with at least an 8-inch diameter. Look for this close approach in the sky after dusk local time.
April 15 – Close Approach of the Moon, Saturn & Mars
Overnight from the 14th to 15th, the Moon dances with another partner; this time it makes a close approach with Saturn. In the pre-dawn hours local time, the Moon and Saturn will pass within 2°26′ of each other; this is a good reason to leave your telescope set up and enjoy a good view of Saturn’s rings.
And then again on the night of the 15th, the Moon makes its close approach with Mars. They’ll pass within 1°57′ of each other once the sky is fully dark.
April 16 – Haumea at Opposition
Don’t break down your telescope yet – April 16th has another reason to keep it set up! Dwarf planet Haumea reaches opposition on this night, and will appear bright due to the geometry of its alignment with the sun and earth.
Haumea is located in the constellation Boötes near bright Arcturus; with the proper equipment, you can use the red giant star to star-hop to Haumea.
April 22 – Peak of the Lyrid & π-Puppid Meteor Showers
On the night of the new moon – April 22-23 – head out for a night sky show of meteoric proportions. The year’s first major meteor shower in the northern hemisphere, the Lyrids, will peak on this night. The Lyrids typically produce a Zenith Hourly Rate (ZHR) around 18 on the night of peak activity. Look for them from the radiant point in the constellation Hercules; this will be visible most of the night for stargazers in the northern hemisphere.
For viewers in the southern hemisphere, this is also a great night to try and see ‘shooting stars:’ the π-Puppid meteor shower peaks on the 22nd too. Though far less active than the Lyrids, π-Puppids are variable and can be a rewarding shower depending on the year.
April 28 – Venus at Greatest Brightness
You’ve probably noticed Venus lately – it’s been brilliant in the evening sky, right? On the night of April 28th, Venus reaches its greatest brightness in this phase of evening sky visibility. While Venus won’t be at its highest point in the sky (that occurred on March 14th, when it was 44° above the horizon!), it should still be easily visible if you’ve got a clear sky after sunset.
Have questions about these night sky events in April? Let us know in the comments!
Featured photo credit: Eric Kilby via Flickr