Spring Meteor Shower, and More Can't-Miss Sky Events in April

This month will delight sky-watchers with a host of planets, glittering star clusters, and the peak of the annual Lyrids.

As the seasons shift here on Earth, the celestial realm will deliver a planet bonanza, a wandering moon, and an early morning meteor shower.

So pull out your binoculars and mark your cosmic calendar.

Mars Meets Saturn—April 2

At dawn, look for the red planet to join the ringed giant Saturn, which will be hanging halfway up the southern skies in the bright constellation Sagittarius. The star-like objects will seem to be separated by only one degree, equal to the space of two lunar disks, making the pairing an eye-catching sight. While both worlds will appear similar in brightness, look carefully and you’ll notice they are distinctly different in color. Saturn shines with a golden-yellow hue, and Mars has an orange-red coloration.

Moon Joins Jupiter—April 2 and 3

The largest planet in our solar system will rise above the local southeastern horizon about three hours after sunset throughout early April. But on the 2nd and 3rd, it will be joined by the waning gibbous moon. The brilliant pair will rise together both nights, tucked neatly within the zodiacal constellation Libra, the scales, with the moon switching from one side of Jupiter to the other from night to night.

Moon Slides by Saturn—April 7

The waning moon will then join Saturn in the early morning skies on the 7th, making an especially pleasing celestial pairing.

Moon Meets Bull’s Eye—April 18

Face the low western sky at dusk and you can watch the thin crescent moon nestled within the V-shaped Hyades star cluster that marks the face of Taurus, the bull. For North Americans, the view will be particularly picturesque, as the lunar disc will slide dramatically close to the red eye of the bull, the giant star Aldebaran. The farther west observers are, the closer the two objects will appear to be to each other.

Lyrids Peak—April 22

This annual meteor shower will reach its peak in the predawn hours of April 22. This year, the quarter moon will set soon after local midnight, creating great viewing conditions just before the shower kicks into high gear. Under dark skies away from city lights, sky-watchers can expect to see between 15 and 20 shooting stars an hour. Individual shooting stars will appear to radiate from the shower's namesake constellation, Lyra.

The Lyrids are also known to have surprise outbursts, such as the one in 1982 that saw as many as 250 meteors appear in a single hour. And the 1922 performance above Europe is the stuff of legend, with records of around 500 shooting stars an hour. While it is unlikely we will see anything like these outbursts this year, the only way to know for sure is to go out and look.

Moon Reaches Regulus—April 24

Sky-watchers looking high in the south at local dusk will catch sight of the waxing gibbous moon as it pairs up with the lead star in the constellation Leo, the lion. Leo is a traditional evening target in the spring for Northern Hemisphere sky-watchers and is easily recognizable thanks to the backward “question mark” star pattern that marks the head of the celestial lion.

Venus and the Pleiades—April 24

For a great observing challenge, see if you can pick out the famous Pleiades star cluster as it slides next to Venus on the 24th. The brilliant planet will serve as a guide to finding the cluster, which is also known as the Seven Sisters. The cluster is made up of seven stars roughly 300 light-years away that can be spotted with unaided eyes even under brightly lit city limits.

Moon Meets Spica—April 28

As the nearly full moon makes its track through the southwestern sky this week, it will pay a visit to Spica, a bright star about 250 light-years away. Two nights later, the moon will close out the month where it started, gliding next to the constellation Libra and the planet Jupiter.

Clear skies!

Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, is the author of Star Trek: The Official Guide to Our Universe. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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