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Leo? Here’s your constellation

King of beasts via desktopnexus.com

King of beasts via desktopnexus.com

Of the 13 constellations of the Zodiac, Leo the Lion ranks as one of easiest to identify in the night sky. From a Northern Hemisphere perspective, the Lion is a fair-weather friend, springing into the early evening sky around the March 20 equinox. Late March, April and May are superb months for identifying Leo the Lion, as this constellation becomes visible as soon as darkness falls and stays out until the wee hours of the morning.

Everything you need to know: Lyrid meteor shower

A fireball meteor falling earthward, courtesy of NASA/George Varros

The annual Lyrid meteor shower is active each year from about April 16 to 25. The short-lived peak of this shower usually lasts for less than a day. In 2014, that day will be centered on the morning (not the evening) of April 22. A last quarter moon, rising in the middle of the night, intrudes on the Lyrid shower in 2014, but these meteors tend to be bright. Some will withstand the moonlight. Follow the links inside to learn more about the Lyrid meteor shower: April’s shooting stars!

Waxing gibbous moon with Regulus after dark on April 10

2014-april-10-regulus-moon-night-sky-chart

As darkness falls around the world on April 10, seek out the star in the vicinity of tonight’s moon. That’s Regulus, the brightest star to light up the constellation Leo the Lion. As seen from mid-northern latitudes, the waxing gibbous moon and Regulus appear rather high in the southeast sky at nightfall, in the southern sky by mid-evening and finally set together in the west in the wee hours before dawn April 11.

Cor Caroli or Heart of Charles

Look for the constellation Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs behind the handle of the Big Dipper.

Look for the constellation Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs behind the handle of the Big Dipper.

Cor Caroli is the brightest star in the constellation Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs. It’s also called Alpha Canum Venaticorum. This star and Chara, Canes Venatici’s second brightest star, are probably the only two stars you’ll ever come to know within the boundaries of this tiny constellation. Follow the links inside to learn more.

Big and Little Dippers: Everything you need to know

Though not bright, Cor Caroli is fairly easy to see in a dark country sky. The star is also called Alpha Canum Venaticorum because it is the brightest star in the northern constellation Canes Venatici.

Star hopping from constellation Orion

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Rebecca wrote, “What is ‘star hopping?’ What does that mean?”

Amateur astronomers use star hopping to go from stars and constellations they know … to ones they don’t know yet. First, look for noticeable patterns on the sky’s dome. One very easy pattern to find at this time of year is the constellation Orion the Hunter. You’ll find it descending in the west after sunset. Orion is easy to find because it contains a very noticeable pattern of three medium-bright stars in a short straight row. These stars represent Orion’s Belt.

Earth goes between sun and Mars on April 8. Mars at opposition

Looking southwest in the predawn/dawn sky in April 2014.

Looking southwest in the predawn/dawn sky in April 2014.

On April 8, 2014, our planet Earth in its smaller, faster orbit passes in between the sun and red planet Mars. Our motion in orbit places Mars opposite the sun as seen in our sky, in other words, rising at sunset and up all night! Astronomers will say that Mars is in opposition to the sun. Mars is bright now! It’s easy to see with the unaided eye from all parts of Earth – as bright as the sky’s brightest star. Mars is brighter than it’s been for six years, since December 2007. Follow the links inside to learn more.

Coma Cluster of galaxies

Almost every object you see in the photograph is a galaxy. Coma Cluster is a group of galaxies in the faint constellation Coma Berenices and it contains thousands of galaxies that houses billions of stars each, just as our Milky Way Galaxy does. Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals.  Photo by Justin Ng in Singapore.  See more photos by Justin Ng.

Almost every object you see in this photo is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of galaxies contains as many as 10,000 galaxies, each housing billions of stars. Photo by Justin Ng in Singapore.

The Coma Cluster is one of the richest galaxy clusters known. How many suns and how many worlds might be located in this direction of space? Follow the links inside to learn more about the Coma Cluster of galaxies in the faint constellation Coma Berenices.

Use moon and Jupiter to identify three stars on April 7

The moon and Jupiter will pop out first thing at evening dusk. As dusk deepens into nightfall, look for the Gemini stars to come out to the north of the moon and the star Procyon to the south.

The moon and Jupiter will pop out first thing at evening dusk. As dusk deepens into nightfall, look for the Gemini stars to come out to the north of the moon and the star Procyon to the south.

No matter where you are worldwide, as darkness falls on April 7, 2014, look first for the moon. The nearby star-like point of light will be Jupiter. As dusk turns into darkness, three bright stars appear near the moon and Jupiter in the starry sky. They are Castor and Pollux of the constellation Gemini, and Procyon of the constellation Canis Major the Lesser Dog.

Moon and Jupiter to present stunning sky show April 6

2014-april-6-jupiter-moon-night-sky-chart

The first two celestial objects to light up the evening twilight after sunset are the moon and the giant planet Jupiter. You should easily see both of them, starting at dusk, as these brilliant beauties rank as the brightest and second-brightest heavenly bodies in the April 2014 evening sky.

When it comes to Jupiter, remember the number 5. Jupiter is the fifth planet outward from the sun, residing a little more than five times the Earth’s distance from the sun. Today, Jupiter lies equally far from the sun and Earth: 5.2 astronomical units. The astronomical unit = the Earth/sun distance, which is approximately equal to 150,000,000 kilometers (93,000,000 miles).

Moon, Jupiter, Winter Circle after sunset April 5, 6 and 7

The Winter Circle lassos the waxing crescent moon and the planet Jupiter on April 5, 2014.

The Winter Circle lassos the waxing crescent moon and the planet Jupiter on April 5, 2014.

Look for the waxing crescent moon as soon as darkness falls on April 5. The nearby super-brilliant “star” is Jupiter, the fifth planet outward from the sun. The moon will be even closer to Jupiter tomorrow, as darkness falls on April 6.

For a challenge, you might want to use the moon and Jupiter to star-hop to the great big loop of stars known as Winter Circle. This Winter Circle is an asterism – a star pattern that is not a constellation. In fact, this brilliant star formation dwarfs the constellation Orion, with Orion’s bright star Rigel marking the southwest part of the Winter Circle.