Eyes on the Night Sky – April 2021
Welcome to the April edition of Eyes on the Night Sky, where we will select the best night sky objects to discover with the unaided eyes, binoculars and telescopes.
The new Moon falls on 12th April and the full Moon on 27th April, where it is most popularly known as a ‘supermoon’. This is the first of three supermoons for 2021; it will be on its closest approach (perigee) to Earth, at 357,378 km (224,000miles) away from us. The Moon’s furthest distance from us is 405,000km (251,655 miles). The Moon may look slightly larger and appear to be brighter than usual.
Image of full Moon over Gwastedyn Hill ©Sam Price
Lyrid Meteor Shower
The Lyrid meteor shower runs from 16th – 25th April, with the peak on the night of 22nd April and the early morning of 23rd April, radiating from the constellation of Lyra. Generally, it produces 18 meteors an hour at the peak zenithal hourly rate (ZHR). Unfortunately, this is around the same time as the full Moon, so viewing opportunities will be limited. Despite the presence of the Moon, look anywhere in the night sky for the bright, lingering dust trails the Lyrids can produce – or wait until around 3.30am, when the Moon is low in the sky. Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher is responsible for this meteor shower as the Earth passes through its dusty wake.
Spot with the Unaided Eye: Close Encounter Between the Moon and Mars
On 17th April, take a look at the western sky for a close encounter between the Moon and Mars. They will be only separated by 0.8° of space, which is slightly smaller than the width of your little finger held out at arm’s length.
Spot with Binoculars: A Double Star
For those who like a bit of a challenge, try to find a pair of equally bright stars that orbit each other every 8.5 years. Situated in the constellation of Boötis, find Arcturus and look for the almost diamond/kite shape of the upper part of the constellation. Look for the star at the apex and the top star of the right outstretched arm of the constellation of Hercules.
With your eyes focused on an area roughly between both constellations, slowly raise your binoculars to your eyes and look for a fine pair of equally bright stars and enjoy the colour contrast. V1 Boo is the orange star and V2 a paler white.
Spot with Telescopes: Black Eye Galaxy
For owners of telescopes of six inches aperture in size and larger, the Black Eye Galaxy (Messier 64) is a lovely galaxy to study and an interesting challenge. Situated in the constellation of Coma Berenices, it lies 17 million light years away.
It is known for its massive dust band that partially obscures the bright core and that dark feature can be observed visually. This galaxy is unique because its outer regions rotate in the opposite direction in the gases internally. It is thought this was caused when a nearby galaxy collided and merged with M64 around a billion years ago.