The Night Sky This Month: April 2022

Night Sky 1
Image Credit: Jackson Hendry

The arrival of April heralds warmer weather as the northern hemisphere tilts towards the Sun causing temperatures to rise. Meanwhile, the winter constellations are beginning to move away from view in the western part of the sky to gradually be replaced by their spring equivalents.

In April, spotting the planets remains difficult from positions north of mid-northern latitudes. Nevertheless, even for observers below about 45 degrees North, most of the planets will only be visible low on the horizon for short periods before dawn, and then only with the aid of binoculars.

Observers south of the equator will be able to observe a partial solar eclipse on April 30th, particularly in the southeastern Pacific Ocean region, and the southern reaches of South America . This eclipse will be best seen from Argentina, from where the coverage will reach a maximum of 53%.

The Moon Phases in April 2022

New Moon First Quarter Full Moon Last Quarter
April 1st April 9th April 16th April 23rd

The Planets in April 2022

Mercury will reach its point of greatest eastern elongation from the Sun on April 29th, when it will be located 20.6 degrees east of the Sun. However, for northern observers, the planet Mercury will only become visible shortly after sunset from about the middle of April, when it will shine at magnitude -1.16 very low on the west-northwestern horizon. Although Mercury will gain some altitude as the month wears on, it will remain low on the horizon, and binoculars may well be needed to spot it even during the last days of April – especially since its brightness will have diminished to magnitude 0.25 by month’s end.

Venus continues to dominate the pre-dawn sky during April. At the start of the month, Venus will shine at magnitude -4.4 and have an angular diameter of 21.66 seconds of arc. Even though its apparent diameter reduces to about 16 seconds as the month progresses, its brightness will remain fairly constant because its phase increases significantly during the last half of April.

Mars starts the month shining at magnitude +1.0 in the pre-dawn sky, albeit within about ten degrees of the south-eastern horizon. Although Mars’ brightness increases slightly to +0.9 towards the end of April, it will remain low enough on the horizon to require binoculars to spot it in the brightening sky.

Jupiter passed a point of superior conjunction with the Sun on March 4th, meaning that it will become visible in the east at about the middle of April as it moves out of the Sun’s glare. However, while Jupiter will shine at magnitude -2.0 at this time, and have an angular diameter of 34 seconds of arc, its very low elevation above the horizon will make it difficult to spot without using binoculars in the rapidly brightening sky.

Saturn is now visible very low on the south-eastern horizon just before dawn. While Saturn starts the month shining at magnitude 0.86, it will remain within about ten degrees of the horizon for at least the next several months, meaning that it may well be impossible for observers north of about 45 degrees North to spot the planet at all for the next few months.

Meteor Showers in April 2022

The Lyrids Meteor Shower is expected to peak this year on the night of 22nd/23rd April. However, some increased background meteor activity may be seen from about the 16th to about the 25th.

The Lyrids occur when the earth passes through a trail of debris left by the passing of Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, and while many meteors leave bright and somewhat enduring dust trails, the shower is not particularly productive. Generally speaking, this shower rarely produces more than about 20 meteors per hour at its peak. Nonetheless, this number could be reduced somewhat this year, seeing that the light from the waning gibbous moon will block out most of the fainter meteors from about midnight onwards.

Note that while the shower’s radiant is in the constellation Lyra, meteors from this shower can appear from almost any point in the sky.

Constellation Virgo in April 2022

The constellation Virgo is now becoming visible in the east late at night, and while it is not among the most prominent or conspicuous constellations in the sky, it is among the largest. It also contains a large number of galaxies, including the Virgo Cluster that has an estimated 2,000 or so members. Moreover, apart from the Local Group of galaxies that forms an outlying member of the Virgo Cluster, Virgo also contains 13 Messier objects, all of which are easy targets for modest amateur observing equipment. Below are some details of some easy deep-sky targets in Virgo

Messier 58 (M58, NGC 4579): Located about 62 million light-years away, Messier 58 is a large barred spiral galaxy that counts among the three brightest galaxies in the greater Virgo Cluster, shining as it does at magnitude 10.5. However, M58’s greatest claim to fame is that two supernova events have been recorded in it: SN 1988A in January 1988 and SN 1989M in June 1989.

Messier 59 (M59, NGC 4621): This among the largest elliptical galaxies in the Virgo Cluster and is also one of the few elliptical galaxies in which star formation is known to occur. As a rule of thumb, elliptical galaxies are mainly populated by old, highly evolved stars, and since elliptical galaxies are also typically almost devoid of gas and dust, the process of star formation is usually completely absent from these galaxies. However, M59 is the exception to this rule, since recent observations have revealed the existence of several newly born stars arranged in a disc formation near the galaxy’s core. M59 has an apparent magnitude of 10.6 and is located about 60 million light years away.

Messier 87 (Virgo A, M87, NGC 4486): Messier 87 is located close to the geometrical centre of the Virgo Cluster near the border with the constellation Coma Berenices. M87 is not only the second brightest galaxy in the Virgo Cluster; it is also the most massive galaxy known to exist in the entire Local Universe, as well as one of the brightest radio sources known to exist. While the source of the radio emissions from M87 is still not known, astronomers suspect that the source is the supermassive black hole in the galaxy’s core, which is one of the most massive black holes known to exist in any type of galaxy. In 2017, this black hole was the first black hole to be imaged directly by a network of eight ground-based telescopes.

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