April marks the end of the ‘meteor shower draught’ with the Lyrids. Although the month is popular for this prominent meteor shower, there are a few more exciting astronomical events in April 2021. Let us have a look at what April has in store for us, along with the monthly planet round-up. Make sure you download one of these space apps that will surely help you locate the planets according to your location.
Astronomical events in April 2021
April 6: Moon and Saturn
On April 6, the Moon will pass 3°57′ to the south of Saturn. Both the celestial bodies will be in Capricornus. Look for the 24-day old Moon close to Saturn in the morning twilight. However, they’ll be too widely separated to fit in a telescopic view.
April 7: Moon and Jupiter
After a close date with Saturn, the Moon will pass 4°23′ to the south of Jupiter in the constellation of Capricornus. Do not confuse Jupiter with Saturn on April 6-7. The brighter of the two planets is Jupiter.
April 12: New Moon
The Moon will pass close to the Sun and remain hidden in its glare for a couple of days. It’s a chance to observe faint galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters.
April 17: Lunar occultation of Mars
The Red Planet will be ‘eclipsed’ by the Moon on April 17, as seen from some parts of the world. An occultation is an astronomical event that occurs when one object is hidden by another object that passes between it and the observer. In other words, when the object in the foreground blocks the view of the object in the background, it is called an occultation.
Lunar occultations are only ever visible from a small fraction of the Earth’s surface. Since the Moon is much closer to the Earth than other celestial objects, its exact position in the sky differs depending on your exact location on Earth due to its large parallax. The position of the Moon as seen from two points on opposite sides of the Earth varies by up to two degrees or four times the diameter of the full moon.
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This means that if the Moon is aligned to pass in front of a particular object for an observer on one side of the Earth, it will appear up to two degrees away from that object on the other side of the Earth. For the rest of the world, the Moon will appear to pass very close to the Red Planet in the constellation of Taurus.
The map below from in-the-sky shows the places where the occultation can be seen from Earth.
April 22: Lyrid meteor shower
Lyrids are what make April special every year. It’s the first major meteor shower since the Quadrantids of early January.
Annual meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a stream of the debris left behind in the wake of comets and asteroids. Over time, the pieces of grit-like debris in these streams distribute themselves along the length of the parent object’s orbit around the solar system. Shooting stars are spotted whenever one of these pieces of debris collides with the Earth’s atmosphere, typically burning up at an altitude of around 70 to 100 km.
This shower can be traced back to comet Thatcher. This year, the Lyrids do offer the opportunity to see around 18 meteors per hour. The Moon, in Leo, will be only 4 days away from the full phase at the shower’s peak, presenting significant interference throughout the night.
There is a pivotal point in the sky associated with each meteor shower, the radiant. All the meteors appear to originate from the radiant. The best show of the meteor showers occurs when the radiant is well up in the night sky. You can use these space apps to locate the radiant easily. The radiant of this shower lies in the constellation of Lyra (hence the name). You don’t have to stare at the radiant point. Look 30 to 40 degrees away from it to see the shooting stars.
Things To Keep In Mind
Before you step out to enjoy the cosmic fireworks, remember the following
- There is no need for any telescope or binoculars to watch the April meteor showers. Just find an open space in the dark.
- Make sure there is no artificial light pollution near your viewing spot.
- Give your eyes enough time to adapt to the darkness. It usually takes 20-30 minutes.
- If possible, relax on a lawn chair to enjoy the show of the heavens above.
- Good things always come to those who wait. So be patient while watching the shower. It takes time to spot them!
Lastly, remember the words of a wise man: “Meteor showers are like fishing. You go. You enjoy the night air and maybe the company of friends. Sometimes you catch something.”
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April 27: Super Pink Moon
One of the most exciting astronomical events in April 2021, the Full Moon will be at perigee on April 27. This event is known as a supermoon. Since the April Full Moon is also referred to as the Pink Moon, the Moon that will rise in the evening of April 27 will be the Super Pink Moon. A supermoon appears about 14% larger and 30% brighter than a normal Full Moon. The next two Full Moons (May 26, and June 24) will be supermoons too.
April 2021 – Planet Round-up
Mercury’s orbit will take it to the far side of the solar system with respect to the Earth. Consequently, the planet will remain hidden in the glare of the Sun. On April 19, Mercury will be at superior solar conjunction, at an angular separation of just 34 arcmins from the Sun. It will take a few weeks before Mercury becomes visible in the sky.
Venus passed the Sun at superior solar conjunction on March 26. The Earth’s twin is still hidden in the Sun’s glare. It is at a separation of just one degree from the Sun. April is surely not a great month to see the inferior planets.
Mars is currently an early evening object, now receding into evening twilight. The Red Planet becomes accessible as the dusk sky fades, about 55 degrees above the western horizon as seen from the latitudes of the Indian subcontinent. Mars is going further away from the Earth with each passing day. It will reach its apogee in October. Don’t forget to see the conjunction/lunar occultation of the planet on April 17.
Jupiter is now emerging from behind the Sun as seen from the Earth. The gas giant rises about a couple of hours before the Sun in the eastern sky. In the coming months, as the distance between the Earth and Jupiter decreases, the planet’s brightness will increase and it will gradually become an evening object.
Just like Jupiter, Saturn is emerging from behind the Sun as seen from the Earth. Both these large planets were at solar conjunction in the last week of January 2021. They remained hidden in the Sun’s glare for the first quarter of the year and are now visible in the morning twilight. The space apps will help you quickly spot the two planets according to your location.
Uranus is in news. Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, scientists have seen X-rays coming from the planet for the first time. However, the planet is going behind the Sun as it approaches its solar conjunction on May 1. Because of its proximity to the Sun as seen from the Earth, Uranus will remain hidden for the next couple of months.
The eighth planet recently passed behind the Sun but is still hidden in its glare. At just 19 degrees from the Sun, Neptune won’t be readily visible in April.
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