Night Sky April 2017
April has arrived and spring is officially here. We have more light in the evening and we are seeing more of our old friend, the Sun. Flowers are blossoming on trees as we start to put away our gloves, scarfs and warm coats for the next five months.
More light means the window of opportunity to stargaze decreases. However, the stars will still be there and there will be some interesting things to observe during the warmer evenings.
Ursa Major can be seen high overhead, near the zenith. Draco is below snaking around Ursa Minor. Giausar is located at the end of Draco. Polaris, part of Ursa Minor, can be seen overhead north.
Auriga is now visible in the north-west, alongside the faint constellation of Camelopardalis. For those who have played the recently released Mass Effect Andromeda, the nearest galaxy to our Milky Way will dip just below the horizon in the north-west.
The Lyrids, a minor meteor shower will peak April 22/23. The meteors are fast and may leave some trails but you’ll have to be patience to see them (around only 18 can be seen per hour). Favourable conditions for observing the shower at its maximum will be when the Moon is a waning crescent. Comet C/1861 G1 (Thatcher) is the parent object in this meteor shower.
Remember now that you are looking south, east and west have now flipped around.
Leo is the most prominent constellation during April. You can see it straight overhead as you look south. The full length of Hydra is fully visible from east to west near to the horizon. Virgo and its brightest star Spica in fully visible in April, to the east of Leo.
Also prominent in the northeast is Bootes and its brightest star Arcturus. Between Leo and Bootes is the constellation Coma Berenices. This constellation is the location of the open cluster Melotte and Coma Cluster of galaxies (Abell 1656). It is estimated that there are 1000 galaxies in this cluster.
- 1st 10:18 Mercury at greatest elongation
- 3rd Moon first quarter
- 11th Full Moon
- 15th Moon at apogee
- 16th – 25th April Lyrid meteor shower
- 22nd – 23rd April Lyrid shower at maximum
- 26th New Moon
- 27th Moon at perigee
This month’s focus – Leo
Leo is my star sign. I know that’s all to do with Astrology but with the constellation being prominent this month I had to give it some special attention.
It’s fairly obvious to say that Leo represents the lion! The constellation was called Ser by Persians, Artan by the Turks, Aryo by the Syrians, Arye by the Jewish and Simha be the Indians. They all translated as lion. It was first catalogued by Greek astronomer Ptolemy and remains as one of the oldest recorded constellations.
Regulus and Denebola are the constellations brightest stars. Regulus (also known as Alpha Leonis) has surface temperatures that are more than twice the amount of our Sun. Alongside being the brightest star in Leo, it is also one of the brightest stars in the night sky. It is around 80 light-years from Earth and is a four-star system. Regulus completes a single rotation in only 15.9 hours, compared to a month for our sun. Hot stars like Regulus use up their nuclear fuel at an incredible rate, much faster than our sun. It is likely that is is only a few hundred million years old but is rapidly approaching its end. In comparison, our sun has an expected lifetime of around 10 billion years, of which it is half way through now.
Denebola is a bright white main sequence star that is around 36 light years from Earth.
Regulus sounds like a right beast! And yet there are stars in the universe more fierce. I’ll have to think twice before I say it is too hot in the summer. If Regulus were our sun we wouldn’t survive.
I will definitely keep an eye out for Leo. The April Lyrids sounds cool too. I shall have to remind myself to look for this in the middle of the month. Fingers crossed I can catch a glimpse of it but it will be a long shot.
Information about the night sky is referenced from 2017 Guide to the Night Sky, in association with Royal Museums Greenwich.
Will you have a look at the night sky in April?
Have you spotted Ursa Major or Leo in the night sky?
What do you think about the facts of Regulus?
No need for postcards, feel free to leave a comment below…