For those who love to turn their gazes to the heavens, April has a couple things worth looking out for, including the Lyrids and Virginids Meteor Showers and, for those with telescopes, a chance for a good look at Mercury. There are also a few nice groupings of the moon and planets worth keeping an eagle eye out open for.
Photo courtesy of Logan Brumm @ Flickr
Saturn and Mars will appear together in the night sky in the first week of April. On April 2, they will appear low on the horizon before dawn in Sagittarius and on April 7, you should see them together with a 3rd quarter moon. For photographers, the moon and planet combination usually makes for cool photographs.
Photo courtesy of Stephen Rahn @ Flickr
The Virginids Meteor Shower that peaks on April 12, but runs from the 7th to the 18th, will only produce about 4 shooting stars a minute even at its peak. However these are likely to be slow and leave a long trail, so can be worth looking for if you have the chance. Like most meteor showers, the best time to observe them is from between the hours of midnight to dawn.
April will have a new moon on the 16th. What is more interesting to those with telescopes is that the moon will not even be visible at night. With no interference from moonlight, it is a great time to look out into the night sky and to turn telescopes towards faint objects that are hard to see, such as galaxies and star clusters.
On April 18, you should be able to see Venus, together with a very thin crescent moon low on the western horizon just after sunset.
The Lyrids meteor shower will be the highlight of April. It will run from the 16th to the 25th with its peak on the evening of April 22 and the morning of April 23. With the moon setting around midnight, you will be able to view the shooting stars without interference from moonlight after this time. Expect up to 20 shooting stars a minute at its peak and watch out for the meteors that leave persistent trails.
On April 29, Mercury will be at is greatest western elongation. What this means is that it is 27 degrees away from the sun. I guess that needs some further clarification. You see Mercury, being the planet closest to the sun, is often hard to observe because it is between us and the sun, and as your mother probably told you, it is not a good idea to stare at the sun. So April is a great time to turn your telescopes (or even binoculars) to the eastern sky just before sunrise to look for mercury. In fact, it will be visible to the naked eye at these times as well. It will be visible just before sunset and sunrise around Australia.
April missed out on having 2 full moons by one day, but will end with a full moon on the 30th. The April full moon is often the first full moon of spring in the northern hemisphere and the first in autumn in the southern hemisphere. But this year it was beaten out of the honour by the March blue moon. Still a full moon is always a great time to go out and enjoy the moonlight.