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Tonight

Moon, Regulus, Jupiter on April 27

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Tonight – April 27, 2015 – as darkness falls around the world, the star Regulus, brightest light in the constellation Leo the Lion, appears near the moon. Just don’t mistake the planet Jupiter, the much-brighter starlike point of light to the west of tonight’s moon, for Regulus. Jupiter is brighter! Plus Jupiter is a planet and shines steadily. Regulus, a star, twinkles.

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2015

Sheryl R. Garrison in Sandpoint, Idaho caught this meteor on April 19, 2015.

Sheryl R. Garrison in Sandpoint, Idaho caught this meteor on April 19, 2015.

The Lyrid meteor shower is over. Next up … the Eta Aquarids, peaking on the morning of May 6, 2015. Watch on May 5 and 7 as well! The broad peak to this shower means that some meteors may fly in the dark hour before dawn for a few days before and after the predicted optimal date. Unfortunately, in 2015, the bright waning gibbous moon will drown many meteors in its glare. Follow the links below to learn more about the Lyrids and to learn what to expect for meteor showers over the coming months.

Moon and Jupiter close again on April 26

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Tonight – April 26, 2015 – as seen from around the world, the moon and dazzling planet Jupiter pop out close together at evening dusk. Of course, we really mean that these two worlds reside close together on the great dome of sky, not close together in actual space. The moon, our closest celestial neighbor, is roughly 400,000 km (250,000 miles) from Earth this evening. Jupiter lies far beyond the moon, at about 1,900 times the moon’s distance from us.

First quarter moon with Jupiter on April 25

The moon's change of position relative to the planet Jupiter and the star Regulus at nightfall April 25, 26 and 27. The green line represents the ecliptic.

The moon’s change of position relative to the planet Jupiter and the star Regulus at nightfall April 25, 26 and 27. The green line represents the ecliptic.

Be sure to watch the magnificent pairing of the moon and Jupiter as darkness falls on these next few evenings – April 25, 26 and 27. The moon and Jupiter rank as the brightest and third-brightest heavenly bodies of nighttime. What’s the second-brightest? It’s blazing planet Venus, also beaming in your western sky at dusk on these April 2015 evenings.

Moon near Gemini stars on April 24

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Tonight – April 24, 2015 – the rather wide waxing crescent moon passes in front of the constellation Gemini the Twins. The two brightest stars in Gemini are Castor and Pollux. The other bright star on the other side of the moon is Procyon, the brightest in Canis Minor the Lesser Dog. The king planet Jupiter, which outshines all these bright stars, lies to the east of tonight’s moon. Look for the moon to be closer to Jupiter tomorrow night, April 25.

Moon in Winter Circle, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury

The Winter Circle as seen from mid-northern latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, adding the planet Jupiter and the ecliptic.

The Winter Circle as seen from mid-northern latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, with the planets Jupiter and Venus.

Tonight – April 23, 2015 – look for the moon and Winter Circle stars. Jupiter and Venus are also nearby. As seen from North America, the moon is inside the Circle. From other parts of the world, the moon will be near these stars. By the way, the planet Mercury is coming back to the evening sky. At the bottom of this post, we have a binocular challenge for you at nightfall: Planet Mercury and the Pleiades star cluster!

Star of the week: Spica, a whirling double star

Classical illustration of the constellation Virgo the Maiden, via constellationsofwords.com.

Classical illustration of the constellation Virgo the Maiden, via constellationsofwords.com.

Spica looks like one star, but it is at least two stars, both larger and hotter than our sun, orbiting only 18 million kilometers (11 million miles) apart. That’s in contrast to 150 million kilometers for Earth’s distance from our sun. Their mutual gravity distorts each star into an egg shape, with the pointed ends facing each other as they whirl around, completing a single orbit in only four days. Follow the links inside to learn more about Spica, brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Maiden, near Mars in 2014.

Vega marks Lyrid meteor radiant point

The radiant point for the yearly Lyrid meteor shower is near Vega, brightest star in the constellation Lyra the Harp.

By the night of April 22-23, the 2014 Lyrid meteor shower is picking up steam. It offers about 20 meteors per hour at its peak. The maximum number of Lyrid meteors may well rain down during the predawn hours on April 23. The shower radiates from a point just to the right of the beautiful blue-white star Vega, which is the brightest light in the constellation Lyra the Harp.

Moon and Venus early evening, Lyrids before dawn

If you miss the young moon on April 19, try again as the waxing crescent moon swings close to the Pleiades cluster on April 20, and the star Aldebaran on April 21. Fortunately, the moon will set early, leaving dark skies for the April 2015 Lyrid meteor shower. The green line depicts the ecliptic.

Watch for the moon and Venus on the night of April 21. The bright star nearby is Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus the Bull.

Tonight – April 21, 2015 – look westward as darkness falls for the beautiful waxing crescent moon and bright planet Venus. They will dominate the western sky shortly after the sun goes down. As night passes, and Earth spins under the sky, the moon and Venus will soon follow the sun below the western horizon, leaving the sky dark for the 2015 Lyrid meteor shower. Follow the links inside to learn more.

Start watching for Lyrid meteors

Composite image of Lyrid and no-Lyrid meteors over New Mexico from April 21-23, 2012. Image via NASA/MSFC/Danielle Moser.

The Lyrid meteor shower is active each year from about April 16-25, and we’re now approaching the peak of this shower. The peak night for the Lyrid meteor shower will probably fall on the mornings of April 22 and 23. This modest shower often offers no more than 10 to 20 meteors per hour at its peak, but it has been known to have bursts of activity that could dazzle you. Fortunately, the waxing crescent moon will be setting at early evening, guaranteeing a dark sky for meteor watching. Watch from late night until dawn.