On the night of April 18-19, 2014, the waning gibbous moon and the red supergiant star Antares of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion rise in the southeast late at night. They appear over the horizon only after the constellation Orion has set. According to ancient myths, Orion and the Scorpion are archenemies and never appear in the same sky together.
The waning gibbous moon and the red supergiant star Antares won’t rise till around midnight, or later, on April 17-18 (at mid-northern latitudes). Once they’re up, however, they’ll be out for rest of the night. At mid-northern latitudes, the moon and Antares will rise in the east a few hours after the planet Saturn does.
The Lyrid meteor shower’s peak morning is April 22, but you might see meteors before that date since we’re crossing the Lyrid meteor stream from about April 16 to 25.
On the night of April 16, people around the world will have to wait until mid-to-late evening to see the waning gibbous moon pairing up with the ringed planet Saturn. Once the moon and Saturn climb above the eastern horizon tonight, the twosome will adorn the nighttime until dawn. Look for the moon and Saturn in the east before going to bed tonight, and if you’re an early riser, look for them in the western sky before sunrise.
The moon and Saturn will pair up especially closely as seen from the Americas. In fact, the glare of the waning gibbous moon may obscure Saturn from view, so you might need binoculars to spot Saturn tonight. From South America, the moon will actually occult – cover over – Saturn, temporarily blocking the ringed planet from view.
Every year around the middle of April, time by the sun and time by the clock agree. For instance, when the midday sun climbs highest in the sky in mid-April, the sundial reads 12 o’clock noon and your local clock time says 12 o’clock noon.
Your local clock time is the same as standard clock time, as long as you live on the meridian that governs your time zone. If you live east of the time zone line, then your local time runs ahead of standard time. If you live west of the time zone line, local time lags behind standard time.
The April 2014 full moon will pass directly through Earth’s dark (umbral) shadow, to stage a total eclipse of the moon for nearly 1 and 1/3 hours, during the nighttime hours on April 14 or 15 (depending upon time zone). A partial umbral eclipse precedes totality by over an hour, and follows totality by over an hour, so the moon takes a little more than 3 and ½ hours to completely sweep through the Earth’s dark shadow. On eclipse night, the brilliant “star” near the April full moon is no star at all but the red planet Mars. They’ll be within each others vicinity all night long.
On the night of April 13, Mars is visible near the moon soon as soon as darkness falls, and, one night later, during the night of April 14-15, Mars will be closest to Earth for this two-year period and it will be near the moon again as the moon undergoes a total lunar eclipse, visible from the Americas. So … wow!
Earth passed between Mars and the sun on April 8. Our two worlds are closest on April 14. On that night, Mars is near the moon at the time of a total eclipse!
Mizar and its fainter companion star Alcor are one of the most famous double stars in the sky. You’ll spot Mizar first, as the middle star of the Big Dipper’s handle. Look closely, and you’ll see Alcor right next to Mizar.
Mizar and Alcor appear so closely linked in our sky’s dome that they’re often said to be a test of eyesight. But in fact even people with less than perfect eyesight can see the two stars, especially if they’re looking in a dark clear sky. This pair of stars in the Big Dipper’s handle is famously called “the horse and rider.” If you can’t see fainter Alcor with the unaided eye, use binoculars to see Mizar’s nearby companion.
Mizar is perhaps the Big Dipper’s most famous star, glorified in the annals of astronomy many times over. Apart from Alcor, Mizar in itself became known a double star in 1650. In fact, it was the first double star to be seen through a telescope.
We’re coming up on a remarkable series of nights for stargazing, culminating with the total lunar eclipse on April 14-15. Learn to see the planets tonight! Four planets are easy to see this month. Jupiter and Mars pop out first thing at nightfall. Saturn is up by late evening. Mars, Saturn and Venus all adorn the predawn and dawn sky.