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Tonight’s Sky: April 2013

Your guide to constellations, deep-sky objects, planets and events, Tonight’s Sky,

Highlights of the April Sky

Evening Planets

As night falls, Jupiter hangs over the western horizon. The planet’s dark bands appear in the sights of a telescope.

Ringed Saturn rises in the east by late evening and will remain visible all night long in the south. On April 28th, Saturn reaches opposition, meaning it is opposite the Sun in Earth’s sky. It is at its closest to Earth, making it appear slightly bigger and brighter.

Constellations and Deep – Sky Objects

Late in the evening, high in the northern sky lies the Great Bear, Ursa Major.

The constellation of Ursa Major contains the well – known star pattern, the Big Dipper.

It resembles a large drinking cup with a handle.

The two stars that make up the front side of the cup are called “pointer stars” because they point toward the star Polaris, also known as the North Star.

The Big Dipper overflows with interesting stars and deep – sky objects.

The stars Mizar and Alcor make up a double -star system that can be seen without a telescope. In ancient times, when Mizar and Alcor were even closer together, they were used as a test of keen eyesight.

M81 and M82 are a magnificent pair of galaxies, showpieces of the northern night sky.

M82 has an irregular shape, bestowed by a collision with its larger neighbour, M81

Turning to the south, we see Leo, the Lion, heralding the coming of spring.

In Greek mythology, Leo is the great beast slain by Hercules.

The star Denebola, which in Arabic means “tail,” represents exactly that.

The bright star Regulus is the heart of the Lion.

Leo has several galaxies in his belly. M65, M66, and NGC3628 make up the “Leo Triplet,” a lovely grouping of galaxies easily seen with a telescope.

Close by is another group.M95 and M96 are large spiral galaxies.

Between the Big Dipper and the head of Leo are three pairs of bright stars known

to ancient Arab astronomers as “The Three Leaps of the Gazelle.”


The Lyrid meteor shower will be best seen in the early morning hours of April 22nd. Moonlight will interfere with this year’s display, but away from city lights, you might see up to 20 meteors per hour.

On April 25th, a partial lunar eclipse will be visible throughout mostof Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

The Moon will darken slightly as it passes through the edge of Earth’s shadow.


The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard.

Produced by the
Space Telescope Science Institute, Office of Public Outreach
Starfield images created with Stellarium
Mythological constellation forms from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographiaby Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval
Jupiter image courtesy of Todd Gross
Saturn image courtesy of John Endreson
M81 and M82 image courtesy of the Digitized Sky Survey, AURA Leo Triplet image courtesy of REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF
M95 and M96 image courtesy of the Digitized Sky Survey, AURA



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