The Sky This Week for April 26 to April 30
The Lyrid meteor shower, a young Moon, and other exciting things to look for in the sky this week.
By Richard Talcott
Wednesday, April 26
Although Jupiter reached opposition and peak visibility earlier this month (on the 7th), it remains a stunning sight nearly all night. It appears about 30° above the southeastern horizon during evening twilight and climbs highest in the south shortly after 11 p.m. local daylight time. Shining at magnitude –2.4, the giant planet is the night’s brightest celestial object with the exception of Venus, which doesn’t rise until morning twilight commences. Jupiter resides among the background stars of Virgo, 9° northwest of that constellation’s brightest star, 1st-magnitude Spica. When viewed through a telescope, the gas giant’s disk spans 44″ and shows incredible detail in its cloud tops.
New Moon occurs at 8:16 a.m. EDT. At its New phase, the Moon crosses the sky with the Sun and so remains hidden in our star’s glare.
Thursday, April 27
With an age of 4.5 billion years, “young” might not seem an appropriate word to describe our Moon. But tonight, you have an exceptional opportunity to see what astronomers call a “young Moon” — a slender crescent visible in the early evening sky. With New Moon having occurred yesterday morning, only 4 percent of our satellite’s disk appears illuminated after sunset tonight. (Tomorrow evening, a 9-percent-lit lunar crescent hangs noticeably higher in the sky.) You should notice an ashen light faintly illuminating the Moon’s dark side. This is “earthshine,” sunlight reflected by Earth that reaches the Moon and then reflects back to our waiting eyes.
The Moon also reaches perigee, the closest point in its orbit around Earth, today. Our satellite lies just 223,275 miles (359,327 kilometers) away from us at 12:15 p.m. EDT.
Friday, April 28
Be sure to check out the waxing crescent Moon against the backdrop of Taurus the Bull this evening. Our satellite stands just 4° to the upper left of 1st-magnitude Aldebaran while Mars and the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters reside a bit farther to the lower right.
Saturday, April 29
Venus appears brilliant in the eastern sky from the time it rises around 4:30 a.m. local daylight time until close to sunrise 90 minutes later. It stands about 10° above the horizon 45 minutes before the Sun comes up. Shining at magnitude –4.7, it appears slightly brighter today than at any other time during this morning apparition. (The difference is essentially imperceptible, however — it appears only a thousandth of a magnitude brighter today than it did yesterday or will tomorrow.) When viewed through a telescope this morning, Venus spans 39″ and appears one-quarter lit.
Sunday, April 30
This is a good evening to hunt down asteroid 29 Amphitrite through a telescope. The 10th-magnitude space rock lies in the constellation Leo, just 0.3° due west of magnitude 3.8 Rho (r) Leonis. The Lion appears about two-thirds of the way from the southern horizon to the zenith as twilight fades to darkness.