In this edition of Astronomy for Everyone, ANDY FLEMING looks at what's on offer for observation in the Northern Hemisphere this April with the naked eye and binoculars.
If you look to the southern horizon on a clear night from the Northern Hemisphere this month and look left you should see the very bright star Sirius – actually the brightest star in the night sky, and one of the closest to our solar system.
Up and to the right of Sirius you’ll see the constellation of Orion. The hunter’s belt is clearly visible with its line of three stars called Alnilam, Alnitak and Mintaka. Look down from the left hand side of the belt and running down almost vertically is Orion’s sword. A hazy patch around the middle of the sword reveals itself through binoculars as the Great Nebula in Orion… a stellar nursery with some new born stars in its centre.
The object high in the western sky after dusk is the planet Venus. If you can, take a look at it through a telescope or even binoculars. You may be able to see the planet's phase – because the Sun is to one side of it, it looks like a half Moon. During this month and next it gets closer to the Earth and becomes more and more of a crescent.
Mars is high in the south, as a bright pinkish object, and is also worth looking at through a telescope. But don't expect its markings to jump out at you, because its disc is fairly small, as Mars is not at its closest to the Earth. Take time looking at it though and you should eventually see the polar ice caps.
Saturn is high up in the evening sky as a bright yellow object in the constellation of Virgo and will be due south after midnight. It's another good target for a small telescope and using a magnification of greater than fifty you should see the planet’s beautiful ring system and its largest moon.
At the end of April you should see some shooting stars. The annual Lyrid meteor shower is at its maximum, but there are only likely to be around 10 an hour even under ideal conditions. They will appear to come from the constellation of Lyra the harp, identifiable from its bright bluish star Vega.
The Moon is always interesting with its fantastic craters, and is visible early and late in the month. Take a look at the two largest craters through binoculars, Copernicus and Tycho… they’re fantastic with the latter having a wonderful ejecta ray system, caused by an asteroid impact.