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Tonight

Moon near Gemini stars on April 24

2015-april-24-jupiter-castor-pollux-moon-night-sky-chart

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.

EarthSky’s top 10 tips for meteor-watchers

Lyrid April 22, 2013 via Mike O'Neal

2013 Lyrid meteor via Mike O’Neal

You might see a lot or you might not see many, but if you stay in the house, you won’t see any. Tips for getting the most from this week’s Lyrid meteor shower … or any meteor shower.

Young moon below Venus, near Mars, on April 19

2015-april-19-mars-venus-moon-night-sky-chart

You’ll want an unobstructed horizon in the sunset direction to catch the young waxing crescent moon below Venus – near Mars – on April 19. Binoculars might come in handy for both the moon and Mars. If you do see the moon … it’ll be beautiful!

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2015

If you trace the paths of these meteors backward on the sky’s dome, you’ll find that they appear to originate from a point in the sky near the the star Vega, the heavens’ 5th brightest star. This is the shower’s radiant point. The radiant point for the Lyrid shower sits just to the right of Vega, which is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra the Harp. It’s from Vega’s constellation Lyra that the Lyrid meteor shower takes its name.

If you trace the paths of Lyrid meteors backward on the sky’s dome, you’ll find that they appear to originate from a point in the sky near the the star Vega, the heavens’ 5th brightest star. This is the shower’s radiant point. The radiant point for the Lyrid shower sits just to the right of Vega, which is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra the Harp. It’s from Vega’s constellation Lyra that the Lyrid meteor shower takes its name.

Yay! It’s almost meteor season again. After the Quadrantid meteor shower in early January each year, we have a lull in meteor shower activity. No major showers happen between early January and the second half of April, when the Lyrid meteor shower will have its peak. Follow the links inside to learn more about the Lyrids and to learn what to expect for meteor showers over the coming months.

Everything you need to know: Lyrid meteor shower

View larger. | Simon Waldram in the Canary Islands caught this Lyrid meteor on the night of April 20-21, 2014.  Thank you, Simon!

Simon Waldram in the Canary Islands caught this Lyrid meteor at 2014’s Lyrid meteor shower. Thank you, Simon!

The Lyrids offers 10 to 20 meteors per hour at its peak on a moonless night. In 2015, the peak is expected the mornings of April 22 or 23, with the nod going to April 23. A waxing crescent moon will set in the evening on the days around the Lyrids’ peak, leaving a dark for watching meteors. Awesome Lyrid prospects this year!