It’s official, we are in spring! Now that is not necessarily a good thing for astrophotographers, as the hours of dark begin to reduce dramatically at higher latitudes, but for visual astronomers and stargazers the conditions get better and better. The Moon is spectacular this time of the year, with its unlit part visible against the bluish sky, and while most planets are only visible in the early morning, the night sky is rich of galaxies and star clusters that look great through a telescope or binoculars. Here’s the best of the month.
April 1 – New Moon. The New Moon is the first lunar phase, when the far side of our natural satellite is fully lit leaving the side visible from Earth in the dark. Mark this date on your calendar for this is the best time to observe or photograph faint objects such as galaxies, nebulas or star clusters as there is no moonlight brightening the sky!
April 4-5 – Da Vinci glow. Look at the Moon on these nights and you’ll notice that the unlit part of the Moon becomes visible. The phenomenon is known as Da Vinci glow, and it’s best observed in the Waxing and Waning Crescent phase of the Moon in April through May. This phenomenon is well visible to the unaided eye, through a small telescope or a pair of binoculars.
April 16 – Full Moon. The full Moon in March is the Pink Moon. The name comes from the ancient Native Americans and refers to the early springtime blooms of some wildflowers (Phlox subulate) that are also commonly known as “moss pink.” The full Moon is obviously well visible to the naked eye but the view through a telescope or binoculars is an unforgettable experience.
April 22, 23 – Lyrids Meteor Shower. With spring we enter the meteor shower season and the first evident one is the Lyrids Meteor Shower, which is active from April 16 to April 25 and has its peak on this night. Produced by the dust left behind by come C/1861 G1 Thatcher, the shower produces about 20 meteors per hour. The show is best observed through the naked eye in dark skies, far away from city lights.
April 24 – Conjunction of the Moon and Saturn. Did you miss those beautiful conjunctions that were so prominent in 2021? No worries, the show is back on. On this morning, a 23-day-old Moon will pass 4°30′ to the south of Saturn, the ringed planet. The pair will be visible in the dawn sky from around 04:30 CET until the two will fade from view, washed out by Sunrise. This event is visible to the naked eyed although a pair of binoculars will deliver amazing views!
April 26 – Conjunction of the Moon and Mars. New day, new conjunction. This time a 25-day-old Moon will have a close encounter with Mars, the red planet. The two will be separated by just 3°54′ becoming visible around 04:45 CET over the eastern horizon, until sunrise. This event is visible to the naked eyed although a pair of binoculars will deliver amazing views!
April 30 – New Moon. The New Moon is the first lunar phase, when the far side of our natural satellite is fully lit leaving the side visible from Earth in the dark. Mark this date on your calendar for this is the best time to observe or photograph faint objects such as galaxies, nebulas or star clusters as there is no moonlight brightening the sky!
DSOs in April. April rhymes with galaxy season in the northern hemisphere as this is that part of the year when our view of the Universe is no longer blocked by our own Milky Way and thousands of galaxies can finally be observed or photographed.
The Ursa Major constellation, in particular, hosts some of the best sights, including the Bode’s (M81) and Cigar (M82) galaxies, the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101), and the barred spiral galaxies Messier 108 and Messier 109. Perhaps less known, but equally beautiful, are the barred lenticular galaxy NGC 2787, the starburst spiral galaxies NGC 3079 and NGC 3310, and the peculiar dwarf galaxy NGC 5474.
The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51), the Sombrero Galaxy (M104), the Owl Nebula (M97), the Leo Triplet (M65, M66 and NGC 3628) and the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy (M83) also prominent this month and constitute great targets for astrophotography. And don’t forget the Black Eye Galaxy (M64), the Needle Galaxy (NGC 4565) and the Whale Galaxy (NGC 4631).
Globular clusters are among the best sights through a telescope or binoculars and represent a valid photographic alternative. The most prominent are the Great Star cluster in Hercules (M13), the Rose cluster (M5), the Snowglobe cluster (NGC 5466) and M3.