The start of galaxy season, a rare hybrid solar eclipse, and a meteor shower all feature this month.
Whereas March gently ushers in the spring season, it’s April that enthusiastically flings open the doors to warmer days and balmy nights. The transformation is most noticeable during the evening hours, when the hushed silence of winter gives way to a lively symphony of insect chatter, celebrating a world awakening from its frosty slumber. Amidst this jubilant nocturnal resurgence, the relatively early darkness of the evening still offers a perfect opportunity to gaze at the starry skies! Here are some celestial highlights that await curious eyes. Wishing you clear skies!
Get That Telescope Ready: It’s Galaxy Season (all month)
As the northern hemisphere welcomes the onset of spring, it simultaneously heralds the arrival of galaxy season for those equipped with a reliable telescope. What makes this season so special? During winter and summer, the plane of the Milky Way galaxy comes into direct view, casting a veil of “local” galactic stars that obscure the distant galaxies. However, in spring, we gaze “above” this plane, while in autumn, we peer “below” it.
Until the close of May, the night sky brims with exquisite galaxy “clusters,” such as the renowned Virgo Cluster, captivating the hearts of astrophotography aficionados. Eager to embark on a celestial expedition? Astrobackyard provides valuable guidance on how to spot 8 magnificent galaxies during this period. To achieve truly “out-of-this-world” results, it is suggested that you acquire a telescope with a focal length of at least 600mm or greater.
Blush at the Full ‘Pink’ Moon (April 6)
April’s full moon, nicknamed the ‘Pink Moon’ after the rush of color from springtime blooms of creeping phlox (Phlox subulata), reaches its peak in the early morning hours of April 6 at 12:35 a.m. EDT.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, some additional nicknames given to April’s Full Moon include “Breaking Ice Moon” (Algonquin) and the “Moon When the Ducks Come Back” (Dakota). Down in the southern hemisphere, where the transition to winter is underway, the Māori of New Zealand refer to April’s Moon as Haratua, which means ” Crops are now stored in pits. The tasks of man are finished.”
Mercury at its Highest After Sunset for the Year (April 11)
On April 11th, Mercury will reach its Greatest Eastern Elongation, presenting the most favorable evening of the year to observe the small planet. During this period, Mercury will be at its highest point above the horizon, although still low in the western sky, and will shine at magnitude 0. If you’re in a spot with some light pollution, the dazzling glow of Venus positioned above Mercury can help point the way.
Mercury’s elevation will be at its peak for the year in the days leading up to and following its maximum eastern elongation on the 11th. As the month of April comes to an end, Mercury’s elevation will gradually decrease, with its apparent position approaching the Sun, which in turn makes observation more difficult. This celestial event offers a unique opportunity for skywatchers to witness the beauty of both Mercury and Venus in the same frame.
A New Moon Ushers in Dark Skies (April 20)
Just like last month, we’re headed into the later part of April with a New Moon and exceptionally dark skies. For a few days leading up to and after April 20, you can train your eyes, binoculars, or telescope and be treated to pristine views of galaxies, shooting stars, and other wonders otherwise dimmed by moonlight.
Need a target? This month, we’re recommending The Cigar Galaxy (M82). Located about 12 million light-years away, this cosmic beauty is labeled a “starburst galaxy” due to its exceptionally high rate of star formation. It is overall roughly five times as luminous as our Milky Way (with its center portion nearly 100 times brighter) and can be found in the constellation Ursa Major.
An Extremely Rare Hybrid Solar Eclipse Unfolds Down Under (April 20)
On April 20, a rare event called a hybrid solar eclipse will occur for a select viewers in the Southern Hemisphere. This type of solar eclipse takes place when the moon comes between the Earth and the Sun, blocking the Sun’s light either completely or partially. In a total solar eclipse, the Moon looks bigger than the Sun and creates total darkness by blocking all direct sunlight.
A hybrid solar eclipse is distinctive because its appearance changes as the Moon’s shadow travels over Earth’s surface. In this case, complete darkness only occurs in a slim path on the Earth, while a wider area, covering thousands of kilometers, witnesses a partial eclipse. Hybrid solar eclipses are quite rare, accounting for only 3.1% (7 out of 224) of all solar eclipses in the 21st century. The next one will give the southern U.S. a partial eclipse on November 14, 2031.
For the upcoming hybrid solar eclipse, the regions that will experience complete darkness include the North West Cape peninsula and Barrow Island in Western Australia, some eastern areas of East Timor, Damar Island, and parts of Papua province in Indonesia. To learn more, jump over to Time and Date here.
Catch a Lyrid Star and Put It In Your Pocket (April 22/23)
The Lyrid Meteor Shower will reach its peak on the evening of April 22/23, with a New Moon keeping skies dark for even the faintest shooting stars to shine.
Lyrids aren’t known for being a particularly prolific shower, averaging around 20 meteors per hour at peak. That said, EarthSky reports that about a quarter leave behind glowing trails – a nice bonus for those otherwise ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ shooting stars. If you’re willing to wait until 2042, you can witness a Lyrid outburst with an expected output of dozens of shooting stars per hour. This event takes place every 60 years as Earth passes through a dense debris stream left behind by Comet Thatcher, the origin of the Lyrids. In 1982, the last outburst showcased nearly 100 meteors per hour at its peak.
To spot them, find a nice patch of the night sky free of light pollution. The Lyrids will appear to radiate from the constellation Lyra (which is easy to spot thanks to its inclusion of Vega, one of the brightest stars).