After a meteor-shower-free March, we are finally back in the shooting-star-spotting business. Other things to keep the stargazers busy in April 2021 include the Super Pink Moon (sadly, it is not really going to turn pink), bright Mars, Spring constellations and, for the satellite watchers, bright satellite passages!
Clear skies and happy stargazing!
The medium strength Lyrid meteor shower will light up the skies between April 16 and 25. The best chance to observe the Lyrids will be in the early hours of April 22nd, when the shower will reach maximum, and its radiant (i.e. the point in the sky where the meteors seem to originate from) will be the highest in the sky.
If you trace the meteors’ path back, they would seem to shoot out of the point that lies in the constellation Lyra the Harp. This is how the shower got its name, the Lyrids.
The parent of the Lyrid meteors is C/1861 G1 Thatcher (named after its discoverer, American amateur astronomer A.E. Thatcher, not the former British Prime Minister) – a long-periodic comet that orbits the Sun once every 415 years. The last time the comet came close to the Sun was back in 1861. And although the next chance to see C/1861 G1 Thatcher will not occur until the year 2276, every April we get to see the crumbs of that comet as Lyrid shooting stars.
During the April 2021 Lyrid shower maximum the Moon would be about 80% and that would significantly reduce the meteors’ visibility. You can expect an hourly rate of 15 or so meteors.
Whether you want to see the beautiful Full Moon, watch the deep sky object on the moonless night of the New Moon or note how the Moon’s shape differs during the first and the last quarter phase, here are the lunar dates for your April 2021 stargazer’s calendar.
4 April: Last quarter Moon
12 April: New Moon
20 April: First quarter Moon
27 April: Super Pink Full Moon*
* “Super” means that the full moon phase will occur when the Moon is in perigee, the closest point to the Earth; the April Full Moon is sometimes called Pink Moon, thanks to the pink wildflower, plox, that blooms around this time.
The easiest planet to spot in April 2021 is Mars. To see the Red Planet, just look west after the sunset and Mars would be impossible to miss! The giants Jupiter and Saturn can be seen in the southeastern sky before dawn. The trickiest planets to observe this month will be Mercury and Venus – they can only be spotted around sunset. Please take care and don’t look in the direction of the Sun until it completely sets (and never ever point a telescope or binoculars at the Sun!)
April is a great time to look for the Spring constellation Leo the Lion. To find Leo, simply follow the 2 outer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper ‘down’, in the direction of the bottom of the pan. You will see 6 stars that look like a backwards question mark. That’s the Sickle of Leo, an asterism (i.e. recognizable pattern) within a constellation.
Leo’s neighbour, Cancer the Crab, contains a beautiful naked eye object M44, otherwise known as the Beehive Cluster. This group of over 1000 stars is situated more than 600 light years away, and is, therefore, one of the closest star clusters to the Earth. Don’t miss a chance to see it!
For observers in the UK April 2021 will not be the best month to see the International Space Station (check the ISS passes in your location here). But don’t despair, there shall be plenty of opportunities to see other artificial satellites crossing your skies! We would recommend using one of the satellite trackers, web-based or apps, and setting up an alert for the bright passes in your location. Good luck!
Planetarium – a place to learn about the night sky
A planetarium, such us our portable Star Dome WonderDome, is a great way to learn more about the night sky and Space. The topics we cover include stargazing, Moon landing, Solar System exploration, search for life in the Universe and so much more. Our presenter-led Portable Planetarium shows are tailored to the abilities, interest and age of our audience. If your venue is not large enough to fit our inflatable dome, you can book our Astronomy Talks with Wonderdome! Please visit our website wonderdome.co.uk to find out more About US: Wonderdome.