Although we had to postpone our astronomy event , The Sky Above Us which was planned for earlier this month, there are still some great night skies which you can enjoy from your own window or garden.  We asked Vernon from the Callander and West Perthshire U3A Astronomy group what we should be looking out for in the coming month. 

In this time of ‘Lockdown’ it can be helpful to have a few additional things to do and if they increase interest and knowledge so much for the better. In this note of Astronomical events I have only included items that can be seen either with the naked eye or with a pair of binoculars.

It is always helpful to have a star chart to follow when navigating and observing the heavens.  A free star chart which also contains lots of additional observational notes is published monthly by Skymaps. Simply go to skymaps.com and scroll down to ‘Download the latest issue’. From here you will can download the northern hemisphere version and save it.  This is then best printed double sided to an A4 sheet. You can find the Northern Hemisphere April star map here. 

Currently the second most prominent object in our night sky throughout the month, after the Moon is Venus.  The planet will grow in brightness over the course of the month and younger eyes, with the aid of binoculars may see it develop into a beautiful crescent.  It is worth noting that planets do not appear on skymaps.

Looking South Leo is the most prominent constellation in the April southern sky and it vaguely looks like the creature after which it is named.  Gemini, with Castor and Pollux, remains clearly visible in the west and Cancer lies between the two constellations.  To the east of Leo the whole of Virgo with Spica, its brightest star, is well clear of the horizon.  Below Leo and Virgo, the complete length of Hydra is visible, running beneath both constellations, with Alphard halfway between Regulus and the southwest horizon. Father east,  the two small constellations of Crater and the rather brighter Corvus lie between Hydra and Virgo.

Bootes and Arcturus are prominent in the eastern sky, together with the circlet of Corona Borealis framed by Bootes and the neighbouring constellation of Hercules.

Looking North Cygnus and the brighter regions of the Milky Way are becoming visible, running more or less parallel with the horizon in the early part of the night. Rising in the northeast is the small constellation of Lyra and the distinctive ‘Keystone’ of Hercules above it.  The winding constellation of Draco weaves its way from the quadrilateral of stars that marks its ‘head’, to end at Draconis which is between Polaris (North Star) and the ‘pointers’, Dubhe and Merak.  Ursa Major is upside down high overhead.  The constellation of Gemini stands almost vertically in the west.  Auriga is still clearly seen in the northwest.  Camolepardalis lies to the northwest between Polaris and the constellations of Auriga and Perseus.

Nights of interest

8th April      Venus is in conjunction (visually nearby) with the Pleiades.  If you have binoculars you are in for a treat this evening.  Also try Google on Pleiades before you observe

15th April       The Moon forms a triangle with Jupiter and Saturn at 04.30 hours.  Binoculars will help to get better resolution.

16th April       The Moon is below Mars at 05.00 hours.  Mars, the red planet can be observed with the naked eye but binoculars will add considerably.

22nd April     The conditions this year are perfect for great views of the Lyrids meteor shower with between 18 and 90 sightings per hour.  The early hours of the morning will be the best time to observe.

24th April       In case you missed the Pleiades earlier this month they will be just below the slim crescent of the Moon at evening twilight.

25th April      It is the turn of the Moon to fall just below Venus.  For astro-photographers this will be a special event as they try to capture an image of a crescent Venus alongside a same phase crescent Moon.

28th April       Jupiter forms a triangle with Saturn and globular cluster M75, a faint cloud of stars which are worth a visit with binoculars.

29th April     The Moon is left of Castor and Pollux the heavenly twins in Gemini during the evening.

Photo credit: Douglas Cooper