Ohio SkyLites - April 2023
What’s Up? Constellations, Planets, and Astronomical Events Visible in April 2023
-Written and Compiled by Alyssa Whalen
April is Global Astronomy Month! Every April, Astronomers Without Borders encourages everyone to go out and observe. Astronomers Without Borders is a nonprofit organization that focuses on astronomy outreach. Their goal is to study and share the wonders of the universe across the borders of nations so that everyone has a chance to experience our night sky. To learn more about Astronomers Without Borders, visit their website here.
Spring is officially here! While the weather in Ohio doesn’t always show it, the astronomical start of the spring season is behind us. The vernal equinox occurred on March 21, so from now until the autumnal equinox in September, the sun will shine more hours per day than the stars. While this does mean less time for observing every night, the nicer weather will make staying out late much more comfortable. This month the sun rises around 6:55 am and sets around 8:10 pm; although, the exact time changes slightly since approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds of daylight is added every day.
The full moon rises early this month on April 6th. April’s full moon has many names, but the most popular is the Pink Moon. This has nothing to do with the moon’s color; instead, it is because this time of year is when the first flowers of spring bloom. For many Native American tribes, this was the wild ground phlox, a vibrant pink flower, hence the nickname Pink Moon. The coastal tribes nicknamed April’s full moon the Fish Moon, because this is when the American shad fish swam upstream to spawn. The new moon and darkest skies this month occur on April 20th. With a little luck with the weather, the days around this time will be the best times to observe.
The Lyrids meteor shower is visible this month. This meteor shower runs annually from April 16th - 25th; this year, it peaks on the night of April 22nd with an expected 20 meteors per hour. The radiant point of the meteor shower is between the constellations Lyra and Hercules, which will be on the eastern horizon after 11:00 pm. It will be best observed after midnight, as the radiant point will become higher in the sky as the night goes on.
Mercury is at its greatest eastern elongation this month on April 11th. This means Mercury will be at its highest elevation in the sky just after sundown. Mercury is typically difficult to observe due to its proximity to the sun, but it will be in its best observing conditions during greatest elongation. It will be visible in mid-April, and it will be above the horizon from sunset until 9:45 pm. Venus is also visible after sundown for a few hours before it sets around 11:30 pm. Besides the sun and moon, Venus is the brightest object visible in our sky; it is brighter than the stars and the other planets during the intervals it is far enough from the sun to be visible.
Currently, a straight line can be drawn from Earth to Jupiter through the sun. Jupiter is completely obscured, and will not be visible in the night sky this month. As the planets move through their orbits, Jupiter will eventually drift westward from the sun from our perspective on Earth, so it will creep above the horizon before sunrise, but it will not be observable again until June. But, just as we lose one gas giant, the other finds its way back into our sky. Saturn will be visible in the later part of April as it finishes its journey behind the sun. It rises at 3 am, about 4 hours before sunrise, but it will still be close to the horizon, and therefore difficult to observe until May. As the year progresses, it will rise earlier in the morning, so it will be easier to observe.
Mars can currently be found within the constellation Gemini, which will be in the western sky at sundown. It is only above the horizon for half the night, as it will set around 1:20 am, but it will be perfectly visible in that time given clear weather conditions. Uranus is already below the horizon by the time the sky is dark enough, and Neptune will rise close to Saturn, but its proximity to the sun and large distance from Earth will make it nearly impossible to observe. Both ice giants require very dark skies and clear conditions to view. Even with that, they cannot be seen with the unaided eye due to their distance from Earth.
It's time to start saying goodbye to our favorite winter constellations. Orion and Taurus are on the western horizon around 10 pm, so they will only be visible for a few hours after sunset. Without the famous hunter to guide us, we have to turn northward to the tried-and-true pointer stars in Ursa Major.
The Big Dipper, made up of a section of stars within Ursa Major, is the most popular navigational tool in the northern hemisphere’s sky. At Ohio’s latitude, it will never set below the horizon at any point throughout the year, so it is usable year-round. In April, The Big Dipper will be found eastward from Polaris after sundown, and it will revolve counterclockwise around the North Star as the night goes on. Once you have found the Big and Little Dippers, Draco the Dragon weaves between the two ladles toward the northeastern horizon. Later in the night, around midnight, the constellations Hercules, Lyra, and Cygnus will rise on the eastern horizon. These three constellations can be found by following Draco to the dragon’s head. This will also put you in the prime location to view the Lyrids meteor shower after midnight on April 22nd.
Pictured Below: The northeastern night sky at midnight the morning of April 15th
Venus: Brocken Inaglory: https://www.jacksonville.com/story/lifestyle/2018/05/04/looking-up-venus-and-jupiter-share-evening/12312263007/
Lyrids Meteor Shower :https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/lyrid-meteor-shower-back-here-s-how-see-april-s-ncna993891
Lyrids Radiant Point: https://in-the-sky.org/news.php?id=20230423_10_100