Along with a sprinkling of shooting stars, sky-watchers this week will marvel at the moon, which guides them to the mythical characters studding the night sky.
Lyrids peak. In the early morning hours of Tuesday, April 22, observers can expect this small meteor shower to peak, with rates of up to about 20 shooting stars per hour under dark skies. Best times to look up will be between local 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. across the Northern Hemisphere. Individual meteors will appear to radiate out from the shower’s namesake constellation, Lyra—the harp rising before dawn in the east.
Moon joins Neptune. The most distant large planet in the solar system can be a difficult target, thanks to its gleam being buried by the glow of the local sunrise on Thursday, April 24. However, Neptune will be joined by our waning crescent moon, which will make it somewhat easier to track down this week.
First, use binoculars to scan to the lower left of the moon and look for a tiny, faint, blue disk. The moon and Neptune will appear in the constellation Aquarius, at a distance from each other of only 5 degrees—equal to the width of about three middle fingers held at arm’s length. Next, using a low-power eyepiece, train your backyard telescope on the tiny, bluish disk of the ice giant 2.86 billion miles (4.6 billion kilometers) away.
Moon snuggles with Venus. Look for the second planet from the sun just south of the razor-thin crescent moon at dawn on Friday, April 25. The pair will appear only 4 degrees apart, making for a pretty photo opportunity for early-bird sky-watchers.
As added observing challenge, see how long during daylight you can continue to follow Venus, the Goddess of Love, in the brightening sky. With the moon acting as a convenient guidepost, keep watch with binoculars and see if you can spot the planet with just your eyes.
Pallas asteroid and Leo. Although the second largest asteroid in the solar system reached peak brightness weeks ago, at 8.3 magnitude, it’s still an easy target for large binoculars and small telescopes—that is, if you know where to look in the sky.
On Saturday, April 26, the giant rock should be a quick find, thanks to the fairly close pass of a superbright springtime star, according to a report at astronomy.com. Pallas will be situated only 5 degrees south of brilliant naked-eye star Regulus—the lead member of the constellation Leo, the Lion. Look for the cosmic king of the beasts high in the southwest sky after nightfall.
Luna meets green giant. On Sunday, April 27, folks in the Southern Hemisphere will see the seventh planet from the sun, Uranus, enjoy a close encounter with the moon, low in the east before dawn. The green giant is only 2 degrees—equal to the width of four full moons side by side—away from the hair-thin moon.
The green-colored ice giant is four times the width of Earth, but since it lies nearly 1.9 billion miles (3.1 billion kilometers) away from Earth, it’s barely visible to the naked eye—and only in very dark, pristine skies.
Because of the glare from the nearby moon, binoculars will be your best bet in spotting Uranus. Just look for a tiny, greenish-blue disk in the field of view. By the way, the absorption of red light by methane in the atmosphere is what gives Uranus its cool cyan coloring.