Astronomy Guide to the Night Sky – April 2024

Astronomy

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NIGHT SKY – APRIL 2024

With the Newbury Astronomical Society

The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 21:00 GMT on 15 April 2024

The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 22:00 BST on 15 April.  West is to the right and east to the left.  The point in the sky directly overhead is known as the Zenith and is shown (in red) at the upper centre of the chart.  The curved brown line across the sky at the bottom is the Ecliptic or Zodiac.  This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky.  The brightest stars often appear to form a group or recognisable pattern; we call these ‘Constellations’.

Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion), Virgo (the Virgin) and Libra (the Scales).

Moving over the south western horizon is the winter constellation of Orion (the Hunter).  Orion is still easy to find by looking for his very obvious three stars of his belt.  Orion has his Hunting Dogs Sirius (the big dog) and Procyon (the little dog) to the east (left) and following him.

Above Orion is the constellation of Taurus (the Bull).  The most obvious star in Taurus is the lovely Red Giant Star called Aldebaran.  It appears slightly orange to the ‘naked eye’ but it is very obviously orange when seen using binoculars or a telescope.  Aldebaran is located at the centre of the ‘flattened’ X shape formed by the brightest stars in Taurus.  It appears to be in a cluster of stars known as the Hyades but it is not a true member and is much closer to us than the rest of the cluster.

Still visible in the early evening sky, over the western horizon, at the end of the top right (upper west) arm of the ‘X’ shape of Taurus is M45.  This is the beautiful ‘naked eye’ Open Star Cluster Messier 45 (M45) known as the Pleiades (or the Seven Sisters).  It is one of the closest open clusters to us and really does look magnificent using binoculars or a small telescope with a low magnification eyepiece.

To the east (right) of Taurus is the rather indistinct constellation of Cancer (the Crab).  The stars of Cancer are quite faint and can be difficult to discern especially in a light polluted sky.  It is really worth searching out Cancer using binoculars or a telescope to see the Open Cluster M44 (the Beehive Cluster).  M44 is older and further away than M45 (the Seven Sisters) so is fainter than M45 but still looks lovely.  It has a group of stars that resemble an old straw Beehive with bees around it.

Following Taurus is the constellation of Gemini (the Twins).  The two brightest stars in Gemini are Castor and Pollux that are named after mythological twins.  To the north of Taurus is the odd pentagon shape of Auriga (the Charioteer).  Dominating Auriga is the brilliant white star Capella.  For those with a telescope there is a line of lovely open clusters in Taurus and Auriga.  These are M35 in Taurus and M36, M37 and M38 in Auriga.

The constellation of Leo (the Lion) follows Cancer along the Ecliptic and was the constellation of the month last month.  It does actually look a little like a lion or the Sphinx in Egypt.  Around and between Leo and the neighboring constellation of Virgo is a cluster of galaxies.  Our Milky Way galaxy and our local group of galaxies are members of this larger group of galaxies called the Virgo Cluster.  A medium sized telescope (150mm to 200mm) and a dark sky is required to see these faint objects.

To the north of Virgo is the constellation of Boötes with its bright orange coloured star called Arcturus.  The stars in Boötes form the shape of an old fashioned diamond shaped kite with Arcturus located where the string of the tail would be attached.  Arcturus is one of just a few stars that do actually appear to be coloured and is noticeably orange to the ‘naked eye’.  It is actually a star with a mass similar to our Sun but is older at 7 billion years (our Sun is 4.3 billion years old).  Arcturus is a Red Giant approaching the end of its life.

WHERE TO FIND THE PLANETS THIS MONTH

  • MERCURY will be very close the Sun this month and will not be observable.
  • VENUS will just be visible in the early morning before sunrise.  It will be very difficult to see in the bright sky as it rises up over the eastern horizon.
  • MARS will be difficult to see this month because it is on the other side of the Sun from our point of view.  It is looking small at about 4.3″ (arc-seconds).  Mars is now moving away from the Sun after its Conjunction (when it passed behind the Sun on 18 November 2023).  It will continue to move further from the Sun in the early morning sky and will eventually begin to appear in the early evening sky later this year.
  • JUPITER is now leaving the night sky to move into conjunction with the Sun on 18 May (when it will pass behind the Sun from our point of view).
  • SATURN is in the daytime sky and not observable.
  • URANUS will be getting more difficult to find as it moves closer to the western horizon and the bright sunset sky.  It may be seen very close to Jupiter as they begin to disappear over the western horizon.
  • NEPTUNE was in conjunction (passing behind the Sun) on 17 March.  It is now in the east in the bright early morning sky so it will not be visible this month.

Direct link to full observing guide April 2024: 232408 Whats_Up_April_2024.pdf – Google Drive

To read our monthly magazine click on: 232408 April 2024.pdf – Google Drive

Link to Newbury Astronomical Society website: Home – Newbury Astronomical Society

Our next meeting will be at Stockcross Village Hall on Wednesday 17th April 2024 starting at 19:00 until 21:00.

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