The night sky in April

Want to know what's up in the sky tonight? Our night sky chart will provide you with the information you need to locate the brightest planets, stars and deep-sky objects ...

During April the Lyrid meteor shower begins around the 19th and reaches its peak on the 22nd and is over by April 25. This is not a particularly good shower, averaging only 10 meteors per hour, but anything can happen. If you have nothing better to do at around 3 o’ clock in the morning during those nights (!), step outside and watch the skies.

At that time the constellation of Lyra, the ‘source’ of the Lyrid shower, should be right overhead. The parent body of this shower is Comet Thatcher …

Leo, the Lion – this month’s sky highlight

april This month’s chart shows the night sky looking South in mid April at 2300. (click on image for larger view)

Leo is a zodiacal constellation whose prominent stars have been included in many different mythologies. Stars depicting the head of Leo form the ‘Sickle’ asterism. The Leonids meteor shower radiate from this constellation around mid-November.

The brightest star in the constellation is Regulus and is situated at the base of the Sickle. At 2130 it has traveled 10-ish degrees past (to the right of) due South. Equidistant and to the left of due South is the bright star Denebola. Move five degrees to the right from this star and you will arrive at two stars of equal brightness directly stacked on top of one another. These are Zosma and Chertan. From the latter, the lower of the two stars, take a pair of binoculars and aim them just below and to the left of this star, and if your skies are dark enough you may be able to detect the faint smudges of light known as the Leo Triplet – these are galaxies that are many thousands of light years distant.

Two of the brightest smudges are M65 and M66. They are separated by a small distance (in the line of sight) and can be observed in the same low magnification field of view along with NGC 3628. Together, these three galaxies make up the Leo Triplet. The sight of this lovely trio is a delight under low power in telescopes. M65 is quite large and oval shaped and M66 has a noticeably bright star-like nucleus. A moderate aperture telescope begins to reveal subtle detail.

In history …

On the 2nd of April 1845 the first photograph of the Sun was taken (with special filters).

Frank Drake began Project Ozma, the first search for extraterrestrial radio transmissions, on April 11th 1960. He found nothing.

One year and one day later (April 12, 1961) Yuri Gagarin became the first Earthling in space. He completed one orbit of our world in his spaceship Vostok 1.

Twenty years later (April 12, 1981) the first Space Shuttle, Columbia, carried Robert L. Crippen and John W. Young into space. Two days later they reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and glided to a landing, like a plane, proving that the Shuttle could be reused for further flights.

The Hubble Space Telescope was deployed on April 25 1990. Four weeks later the first images from the scope showed there was something seriously wrong with the optics. It was later determined that years before, during production, a misplaced fleck of paint had introduced an error into the curvature of the 2.4 meter mirror – making it too shallow by 0.002 millimeters! This caused ‘spherical aberration’ and it was impossible to focus the ‘scope. Some projects could continue but Hubble was unable to carry out its complete mission. In December 1993 the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour captured the telescope and repaired it by introducing an extra optical aid (that acts like corrective glasses).

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© Macclesfield Astronomical Society 2017