Eye on the Sky

Here is our pick of what to look out for in the night sky during April 2019

Highlights

Evening Zodiacal Light A pale pyramid of light stretching up from the horizon just south of west. Invisible to most people in the United Kingdom it can nevertheless be spotted from most places in our Dark Sky Park. Look for it from just after dark for about an hour or so. It is caused by sunlight reflecting off dust in the plane of the solar system.
  Shooting Stars The Lyrids
  Galaxies Galore

Early spring is galaxy season and with the Milky Way well out of the way we can gaze deep into intergalactic space. Although galaxies only appear as faint smudges through binoculars the stunning thing is the realisation that the feeble glow we see represents the combined light of several hundred billion stars at an almost unimaginable distance.

The Planets

Evening Mars Setting in the west
After midnight Jupiter Rising in the east
  Saturn Rising a couple of hours before sunrise, improving as the month progresses.

Night Sky Diary

1st – 5th

Lunar last quarter Our night time skies are at their darkest – the best time for spotting those distant galaxies.
6th New Moon A beautiful crescent moon will be visible in the west around sunset. See if you can spot the “Earthshine” on the dark part.

5th – 19th

Waxing Moon The best time for evening Moon watching is during the waxing phase. The most interesting area to look at is the line that separates night from day on our satellites’ surface. Along that line the rising sun casts long shadows and highlights the rugged lunar landscape. The view is constantly changing as the lunar sunrise progresses.

22nd – 23rd

Lyrids Meteor Shower The Lyrids is an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at its peak. The shower runs annually from April 16-25. These meteors can sometimes produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. Meteors radiate from the constellation Lyra.

27th – 30th

Lunar last quarter Once again our evening skies will be at their darkest. The next seven days will be the best time for spotting distant galaxies. Make the most of it because it will not get really dark again until August!

Constellation of the Month

Ursa Major

One of the best known constellations in the northern sky, it is said to represent a bear. It can most easily be recognised by the plough asterism formed by its seven brightest stars. Lying well away from the plane of the Milky Way with its obscuring dust we have an excellent view across intergalactic space.
Naked Eye Asterism The Plough is one of the most familiar sights of our northern skies. It consists of four stars arranged in a rough rectangle with three star handle on one side.
  Double Star Alcor & Mizar were used by the Romans as an eyesight test. If you can see both of them (in the middle of the Plough’s handle then you are good enough for the Roman army!
Binoculars Galaxies

Draw an imaginary line from Phad (Gamma Uma) to Dubhe (Alpha Uma). Extending it to the north east by three binocular field widths should bring you to Bodes galaxy (M81) and the Cigar (M82). Both galaxies are about 12 million light years away

You can find the Pinwheel galaxy at the point of an equilateral triangle whose two lower points are Mizar and Alkaid. Alternatively follow the uneven trail of stars north east from Alcor and Mizar. It contains around a trillion stars lying at a distance of 20 million light years.

Although the Surfboard galaxy (M108) lies within the same binocular field as Merak (about half a binocular field to the south west) you will need to ease Merak out of view other wise it’s brightness will overwhelm the galaxy which lies at a distance of 45 million light years. It will appear as a sliver of light because it is almost edge on from our point of view.

  Nebula A little further to the south west lies the Owl Nebula. The remains of a star that has suffered the same fate as ours will in due course.