What are some skywatching highlights in April 2023?
Mercury has reached its highest point in the evening sky for the year for Northern Hemisphere observers. The Moon makes its monthly rounds to pair beautifully with various planets. And viewing conditions can be ideal for the annual Lyrid meteor shower, thanks to no interference from the moon.
Mercury, moon and planets, and meteors!
Spot Mercury after sunset early in the month, follow the Moon’s visit to the planets, and catch a shooting star when the Lyrid meteor peaks on April 23.
April 2023 Skywatching Highlights
- April 11 – Mercury is highest in the evening sky of the year for Northern Hemisphere observers. Look down in the west shortly after sunset (best view is April 3-11, as it rises a little higher each evening.)
- April 11 – Venus This evening in the west sits the Pleiades star cluster.
- April 15-16 – Find the moon nearby Sat In the east, a few hours before sunrise.
- April 23 – The crescent moon hangs just five degrees above Venus in the west after sunset.
- April 25 – Moon and Mars This evening pairs, high in the west after dark.
- April 6 – Full Moon
- April 20 – New Moon
- April 23 – The Lyrid meteor shower peaks this morning. Best viewed between midnight and dawn.
- April 26-27 – The Moon is in its first quarter phase, which is a great time to observe with binoculars or a telescope if you have access. At this time you can see the details of lunar craters and ridges along the day-night line (terminator).
What’s up for April? Mercury rising, this month’s moon and planet pairing, and the Lyrid meteor shower.
First, on April 11, Mercury—the smallest and fastest-moving of the planets in our solar system—will be at its highest and most visible in the evening sky for the year.
Mercury is visible in the sky for a few weeks every three to four months. The rest of the time, it stays very close to the Sun in the sky and gets lost in its bright glow. And because the planet orbits so close to the Sun, it is always close to the Sun in the sky, never appearing near the horizon for more than an hour or two after sunset or before sunrise.
Some transitory appearances of Mercury – known as “apparitions” – are better for observation than others, because the phase planet time should show us how our view of the solar system changes with the seasons, which hemisphere you are in and the combination of related factors. For this apparition, viewing is best in the Northern Hemisphere, from April 3rd to the 11th, as the planet appears high in the sky each evening. After that it quickly fades in brightness, as it appears to us as an increasingly slimmer crescent.
Also on April 11, you’ll find Venus right next to the Pleiades star cluster. The two binoculars will be close enough to see the same field of view. The pair make for a fun reminder that the night sky is a lot like a time machine – the farther you look into space, the more time you see. That night you see light that left Venus about 9 minutes earlier than the light from the Pleiades left those stars about 400 years ago.
The last half of April includes some great close approaches to the Moon along with the three brightest planets in the sky. On April 15 and 16, you will see the crescent moon rising with Saturn. Look for them below in the southeastern sky a few hours before sunrise. Then on the evening of the 23rd, look for the thin crescent moon hanging just five degrees above Venus in the west after sunset. And on April 25th the moon finds its way to Mars high in the west after dark.
During this time, around the 26th and 27th, the moon will be in its first quarter phase, meaning it will appear as a “half-moon” in the sky after dark. The first quarter moon is a great time to get out your binoculars or telescope, if you have them, because it’s an ideal time to easily observe the moon’s craters and mountains along the terminator – the day/night boundary. Many astronomy clubs plan public night observations around this time as well, and you can check out events in your area NASAIts Night Sky Network.
April brings the annual Lyrid meteor shower. It is a moderate-strength shower that can produce 20 meteors per hour at its peak under ideal conditions. The Lyrids are in the pre-dawn hours of April 23rd this year, though you’ll see a few shooting stars in the morning before and after the peak. Fortunately, the peak falls just a few days after the new moon. That means the Moon won’t interfere with this year’s Lyrids, faint meteors overwhelming the moonlight.
The Lyrids are named for the constellation Lyra, which is near the point in the sky where their meteors are said to shine. They are one of the oldest known meteor showers, with the first recorded meteor shower in China about 2,700 years ago. They originate as dust particles from comets during their 400-year orbits around the Sun.
Lyrids produce fast-moving meteors that lack a continuous path, but they can also occasionally produce bright meteors called fireballs. To observe them, find a comfortable spot away from bright city lights, become horizontal and look straight up You’ll see the most meteors by looking slightly away from the focal point, which is near the bright star Vega.
So here’s hoping for clear skies to catch a few shooting stars on an April morning, when the forecast calls for a light shower of comet dust, with the possibility of fireballs.
Here are the moon phases for April.
Stay up to date with all of NASA’s missions to explore the solar system and beyond at nasa.gov. I’m Preston Dyches from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and this is what’s up for this month.