April Is Full of Spectacular Stargazing Events. Here’s When & How to See Them.
So many activities have become impossible to enjoy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it turns out social distancing doesn't have to interrupt your stargazing habit.
So many activities have become impossible to enjoy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. But it turns out social distancing doesn't have to interrupt your stargazing habit. Alternatively, if that's something you never thought about doing with your evening, well, nothing is stopping you now.
April is a good month to get out in the yard at night or head to an open, dark space out of town where you can be safely distanced from anyone else looking up into the night sky. It's a good month because it's finally starting to feel like spring and there's a wide variety of events taking place up in the stars. Among the spectacles, there's a supermoon, the first meteor shower after a long drought, a great view of Venus, and much more.
Here are all the good reasons to look up throughout April. Now would be a great time to set up some reminders on your phone.
April 3: Venus in the Pleiades
Throughout the start of the month, Venus and the Pleiades star cluster will be moving closer together, visible just after sunset. They'll meet on April 3, when Venus will appear to sit inside the cluster in the western sky. Use binoculars or a telescope with a wide view and you'll be able to spot both Venus and the cluster in the same space.
April 7: Supermoon
We're in the midst of a series of four supermoons, depending on how you define the term. However, we can set aside the debate because April's full moon is the biggest, brightest supermoon of the year. It shouldn't be too hard to spot this one when you step outside to look up on the night of April 7.
April 14-16: Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and the Moon Together
The three planets were hanging around together every night in March, but Mars continues to move further away from the gas giants in April. However, for three nights in mid-April, they'll still be close together and joined by the moon. Seeing all four this close together is always a treat and easy to spot across the country.
However, even if you don't get out to enjoy those four violating social distancing best practices, it's worth trying to get a view of Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter at some point before they split up this month. They won't be back together like this for more than two years, according to NASA. In fact, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter won't even be together again until the middle of 2022.
April 21: The Lyrid Meteor Shower Peaks
It's been a while. The last significant meteor shower took place back in January. As long as your local weather cooperates, the conditions are looking good for the Lyrids. The new moon will provide very little light interference in the night sky, so you can expect to see around 15 meteors per hour, Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells Thrillist.
This is the only celestial event on the list that will require you to leave the light pollution of the city to get a good view. If you're in a metropolitan area, it's unlikely you'll see any meteors.
April 27: Venus Shines its Brightest
Venus is the brightest natural object in the night sky after the sun and the moon. It'll hit its brightest point of the year at about 9pm EST on April 27. Right around then, you'll be able to see the planet as bright as you're going to see it through all of 2020. Though, the difference between 9pm and other parts of the night isn't significant. You can head out any time around twilight to catch the planet in the western sky.
Venus has been shining bright in the early evening for many weeks now, so if you can't get out on the night of April 27, you'll still be able to see it quite bright any night you've got clear skies.
Late April/Early May: Farewell to Orion
Orion is one of the most recognizable constellations in the night sky. It pops up throughout most of the US in November and hangs around through the winter and into the spring. When it will disappear from sight is going to vary based on your latitude. However, EarthSky notes that it'll start to disappear for skywatchers in the central US in early May. It'll be out of sight for anyone in the contiguous US by the summer solstice on June 20.
April and Into May: Comet ATLAS
First discovered in late December, Comet ATLAS is getting closer and closer to Earth while getting brighter and brighter in our skies. Early in April, the full moon will interfere with your ability to spot the comet, but it's visible through a telescope or high-powered binoculars throughout April, representatives from The ATLAS Project tell Thrillist. If you're getting out the telescope now, look toward the constellation Camelopardalis in the north-northwest sky.
Update: The comet has broken into pieces and is dimming. All hope of having a brilliant comet you could see with the naked eye has been extinguished. However, a new comet, Comet Swan, is giving hope that an event like this might still happen in 2020.
Tips & Tools for Stellar Stargazing in April
- The name "supermoon" has been a topic of some debate. Here's our breakdown of exactly what a supermoon is and why some experts scoff at the term.
- Finding a great spot to stargaze can be tricky if you're in a metro area, so check out darkness-finding tools (like this one) before your next outing.
- Can't make it out to some place dark enough? You can sit back and watch this stream of the northern lights from your couch.