Starry Night: Late April 2012

Posted Wednesday, April 11, 2012 in Features

Starry Night: Late April 2012

Late April: Lyrid meteor shower timed well for viewing

by Tristan Radtke

This year’s Lyrid meteor shower, while not the most active (peaking around 10-20 per hour), will be one of the better showers of the year for viewing, peaking around April 22. The Moon, often the biggest threat to viewing meteors clearly, will be in its new phase during the peak, making viewing the shower much more likely. The shower emanates from the constellation Lyra, the Lyre, which will rise on April 15 around 9 p.m., and tends to be most active in the hours just before sunrise, when it will be moderately high in the southeast sky. While the Lyrids tend to be fairly quiet for a heavy meteor shower, the meteors tend to strike the atmosphere at a sharper angle than many, leading to spectacular fireballs, and the Lyrid shower also has the potential to be as active as 100 or more meteors per hour for brief periods. For more information about the Lyrids, or other meteor showers this year, visit this helpful website.

The Stars

This is a good time of year to look for a constellation that looks astoundingly like what it's supposed to be -- Leo, the Lion.  Known best by the backward question mark shape that marks the beast's head, mane, and throat, Leo rises in fall at night, but is mostly known as a spring constellation.  Its brightest star, Regulus, is actually a multiple star system of four stars that revolve around one another in about 40 days.  The biggest of the four stars is a bright blue-white giant, while the other stars are white dwarfs.  Leo contains many bright galaxies, including the famous "Leo Triplet" of galaxies, and the Leo Ring of luminous gas that surrounds several of the galaxies.  Leo was also the site of one of the first discovered extra-solar planets, about the size of Neptune.

The Planets

• Mercury: On April 15, Mercury will rise just before sunrise, around 5:10 a.m. By April 30, it will have moved closer to the glare of the Sun, but may be visible just before sunrise at 4:50 a.m.

• Venus: On April 15, Venus will set around 11 p.m. On April 30, Venus will set about 10 minutes earlier, around 10:50 p.m.

• Mars: Mars will set at 4 a.m. on April 15, and by the end of the month it will set at 2:45 a.m.

• Jupiter: Jupiter will set around 8:45 p.m. on April 15, and by April 30 will be lost to the glare of the Sun.

• Saturn: Saturn will shadow the sun, rising around 7 p.m. on April 15, and by month’s end Saturn will set just as the Sun rises, around 4:50 a.m.

• Uranus: Uranus has returned to the pre-dawn sky, but too dim to spot rising just before sunrise on April 15. By April 30, it will rise earlier with a brief chance to spot it as it pops above the horizon, around 4:10 a.m.

• Neptune: Neptune will rise around 4 a.m. on April 15, and by the end of the month Neptune will rise at 2:45 a.m.

• Pluto: On April 15, Pluto will rise around 1 a.m., and by April 30, Pluto will rise at about 11:45 p.m.

The Moon

The Moon will begin April waxing towards full phase, which it will reach on April 6. It will begin waning, reaching third quarter on April 13, and new phase on April 21. By April 29, it will have waxed to first quarter, and will continue waxing into the month of May.

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