Wednesday, April 15, 2020

April Astronomical Report

We are in the middle of the month and I am sorry for getting this to you late.  Between Covid-19 and the isolation, it's been hard trying to get things on a normal schedule.  However, Lepus California Observatory was nice enough to provide me with a monthly report for April.   Be sure to head over to their Youtube Channel and check out some of their educational/ astronomy videos (all videos are generally child friendly although do preview for mild language).

April 2020 Astronomy Report

April is again a quiet month for major astronomical events but there are always something going on in the sky. There is a crowd favorite meteor shower coming up mid-month and the third in a line of four supermoons will be also shine brightly in April. Also, the comet that was once hoped to put on a great show can't keep it together!

On the Earth

This month brings the return of the Lyrids meteor shower, a somewhat major player in the annual roll call of meteor activity. As their name suggests the Lyrids have their radiant placed in the constellation of Lyra. Peak rates for this shower is somewhat low, somewhere between 10-20 streaks per hour. However, these meteors are known for producing bright streaks that leave behind bright smoke trails that last for several seconds. The moon will be in it's new phase so there will be no interference from moonlight this year. Best time to look will be after midnight.

In the Solar System

The third supermoon in a line of four for this year occurs on April 8. Being a supermoon means it will appear just a little brighter and a little bigger than normal. Expect an abundance of moonlight if the skies are clear. The fourth and final supermoon of the year occurs in May.

If you have seen some of the news lately you might be aware of a comet that was supposed to put on a good show later in May. Comet C/2020 Y4 Atlas is currently gliding through the inner solar system between the orbits of Mars and Earth. A few weeks ago it began to experience an outburst in brightness and almost getting to naked eye magnitude. The comet was predicted to get very bright in May and put on a spectacular show. Alas, or should I say Atlas, it was not to be. The comet started breaking up in mid April. However, as one comet leaves, another has entered. C/2020 F8 Swan is the newest contender.

If you would like to see a wonderful conjunction of solar system bodies in mid April, you have but to arise early. The Moon will be teaming up with Mars and both Jovian worlds (Jupiter and Saturn) to put on a nice show in the early morning hours of April 14-18. All you need are your eyes to see but you will need to get up before dawn.

In the Milky Way and Beyond
The spring season is also known as galaxy season to amateur astronomers. Constellations like Leo and Coma Berenices contain hundreds of galaxies and many of them can be seen with a small scope or pair of binoculars. Examples include M101 (Pinwheel Galaxy), M81 (Bode's Galaxy) and M82 (Cigar Galaxy), M51 (Whirlpool Galaxy), M84 in Markarian's Chain (a long chain of several galaxies) and the Leo Triplet (contains M65, M66 and NGC 3628).

M81 (Bode's Galaxy) and M82 (Cigar Galaxy)
M101 (Pinwheel Galaxy)

Lunar phases:
First Quarter: Apr 1
Full: Apr 8
Third Quarter: Apr 14
New: Apr 23

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