Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of April 2021
Discovered by the German astronomer Johann Elert Bode in 1774, M81 (also known as Bode’s Galaxy) is one of the brightest galaxies in the night sky. It is located 11.6 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major and has an apparent magnitude of 6.9. Through a pair of binoculars, the galaxy appears as a faint patch of light in the same field of view as M82. A small telescope will resolve M81’s core. The galaxy is best observed during April. This stunning Hubble image was assembled using observations in visible and infrared light. The galaxy’s spiral arms, which wind all the way down into its nucleus, are made up of young, bluish, hot stars formed in the past few million years. They also host a population of stars formed in an episode of star formation that started about 600 million years ago. Ultraviolet light from hot, young stars is fluorescing the surrounding clouds of hydrogen gas. A number of sinuous dust lanes also wind all the way into the nucleus of M81. The galaxy’s central bulge contains much older, redder stars. It is significantly larger than the Milky Way’s bulge. A black hole of 70 million solar masses resides at the center of M81 and is about 15 times the mass of the Milky Way’s central black hole. Previous Hubble research showed that the size of the black hole in a galaxy’s nucleus is proportional to the mass of the galaxy’s bulge. [Video and Content Credits: NASA, JPL – Caltech, and the Office of Public Outreach – STScI] [Image Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)]
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of April 2021
Welcome to the night sky report for April 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Clear April nights are filled with starry creatures. Near the Big Dipper, you will find several interesting binary stars. You can also spot galaxies like the Pinwheel Galaxy, M82, and M96—the last of which is an asymmetric galaxy that may have been gravitationally disrupted by encounters with its neighbors.
What are some additional skywatching highlights in April 2021? Look for the rosy arch known as the Belt of Venus at sunset, and then find the constellation Leo overhead on April evenings. Also, check out Jupiter and Saturn with the Moon on April 6.
Face north. Overhead, you will find Ursa Major, the Great Bear.
The Big Dipper, which forms part of the bear, is one of the most familiar star patterns in the sky. In the middle of the handle lie Mizar and Alcor, a double star discernable with the naked eye. A telescope shows Mizar and Alcor as a diamond-white pair of stars. In fact, this is a six-star system: Alcor is itself a binary, while Mizar is actually two sets of binaries—a quadruple star.
During the spring, our view is away from the cloudy plane of the Milky Way, and the clearer view reveals
other galaxies. Near the end of the Big Dipper’s handle lies the Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as M101. A ground-based telescope reveals its spiral shape. With the eye of the Hubble Space Telescope, we can see individual stars that make up this spiral galaxy. The Pinwheel Galaxy is similar in both size and shape to our own Milky Way galaxy.
Beyond the Big Dipper’s bowl lies a pair of galaxies: M81 and M82. The two galaxies are relatively nearby, just 12 million light-years away—and very close to each other— just 150,000 light-years apart. South of the Great Bear roams another great beast: Leo the Lion. Leo’s bright heart is marked by the star Regulus—a system of four stars—two double stars circling each other.
Within Leo’s stomach lie a number of galaxies. Two of them—M95 and M96—are large spirals. An infrared view of M95 shows an orderly galaxy seen face-on. A visible light view of M96 shows an asymmetric galaxy, probably gravitationally disrupted by encounters with its neighbors.
In the Chinese lunisolar calendar, Monday, April 5, 2021, marks the start of the Qingming solar term, the fifth solar term of the year. The Chinese lunisolar calendar uses both lunar months and solar terms. For over 2,500 years, the Chinese have celebrated the Qingming Festival starting on the first day of Qingming. Called the Tomb-Sweeping Day, this festival is sometimes described as the Chinese Memorial Day or Ancestors' Day.
On Tuesday morning, April 6, 2021, the planet Saturn will appear to the upper left of the waning crescent Moon, with the bright planet Jupiter appearing farther to the left. Saturn will rise first in the east-southeast about 1 hour, 45 minutes before morning twilight begins at 4:03 a.m. EDT, the Moon rises about 19 minutes later at 4:22 a.m., and Jupiter about 17 minutes after the Moon at 4:39 a.m. The Moon will appear about 12 degrees above the southeastern horizon as morning twilight begins at 5:45 a.m.
Sunday night, April 11, 2021, at 10:31 p.m. EDT, will be the new Moon, when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from the Earth. The day of – or the day after – the New Moon marks the start of the new month for most lunisolar calendars. In the Hebrew calendar, sundown on Sunday, April 11, 2021, will mark the start of Iyar.
In the Islamic calendar the months start with the first sighting of the waxing crescent Moon. Many Muslim communities now follow the Umm al-Qura Calendar of Saudi Arabia, which uses astronomical calculations to start the months in a more predictable way (intended for civil and not religious purposes). Because of its religious significance, Ramadan is one of four months in the Islamic year where the start of the month is updated in the Umm al-Qura Calendar based upon the actual sighting of the crescent Moon. This calendar predicts the holy month of Ramadan may start with sunset on Monday, April 12, 2021, but the actual start will be adjusted based on observations of the crescent Moon. Ramadan is honored as the month in which the Quran was revealed. Observing this annual month of charitable acts, prayer, and fasting from dawn to sunset is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
In India's time zone, Tuesday, April 13, 2021, marks the start of Chaitra, the first month of the Hindu lunisolar religious calendar. The first of Chaitra is celebrated as New Year's Day and is known as Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, Chaitra Vishu or Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, and Ugadi in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. This starts the nine-day New Years’ celebration called Chaitra Navratri. These nine days are dedicated to forms of the Goddess Shakti. Many of the customs and rituals followed during Chaitra Navratri are similar to those for the fall celebration called Shardiya Navratri (in September or October).
Wednesday afternoon, April 14, 2021, at 1:48 p.m. EDT, the Moon will be at apogee, its farthest from the Earth for this orbit.
On Friday evening, April 16, 2021, the planet Mars will appear about 7 degrees above the waxing crescent Moon. The Moon will appear about 37 degrees above the western horizon as evening twilight ends at 8:47 p.m. EDT. The Moon will set first in the west-northwest a little more than 3.5 hours later on Saturday morning at 12:18 a.m. EDT.
On Sunday evening, April 18, 2021, the planet Mercury will be passing on the far side of the Sun as seen from the Earth, called superior conjunction. Because Mercury orbits inside of Earth, Mercury will be shifting from the morning sky to the evening sky and will begin emerging from the glow of dusk on the western horizon later in April (depending upon viewing conditions).
Tuesday evening will be the first evening that the bright planet Venus will be just barely above the horizon in the west-northwest 30 minutes after sunset (an approximation of when Venus will start becoming visible in the evening sky).
The annual Lyrid meteor shower is expected to peak early in the morning on Thursday, April 22, 2021. This year, the light of the waxing gibbous Moon will interfere with the visibility of these meteors, which under ideal conditions (which we don't have this year) might be expected to produce about 18 visible meteors per hour. On the morning of April 22, the Moon will set about 30 minutes before any sign of dawn begins to show in the east – at 4:07 a.m. and 4:44 a.m. EDT, respectively – so there will only be a short window without light interference.
Saturday evening, April 24, 2021, will be the first evening that the planet Mercury will join Venus just barely above the horizon in the west-northwest 30 minutes after sunset (an approximation of when Mercury will start becoming visible in the evening sky).
Sometime around Monday (2021-Apr-26 13:05 UTC with 4 days, 14 hours, 59 minutes uncertainty), Near-Earth Object (2015 HA177), between 25 to 56 feet (8 and 17 meters) across, will pass the Earth at between 0.8 and 47.4 lunar distances (nominally 18.6), traveling at 19,480 miles per hour (8.71 kilometers per second).
Also around Monday (2021-Apr-26 22:24 UTC with 7 days, 20 hours, 11 minutes uncertainty), Near-Earth Object (2019 HF4), between 26 to 59 feet (8 and 18 meters) across, will pass the Earth at between 1.2 and 18.4 lunar distances (nominally 7.7), traveling at 15,120 miles per hour (6.76 kilometers per second).
The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard.
The following Deep Sky Objects are found in constellations that peak during the month. Some can be viewed with a small telescope, but the majority will require a moderate to large telescope. The following is adapted from my personal viewing list: "The Guy Pirro 777 Best and Brightest Deep Sky Objects."
Constellation: Canes Venatici
NGC 4111 Galaxy Herschel 400 H195-1
NGC 4143 Galaxy Herschel 400 H54-4
NGC 4151 Galaxy Herschel 400 H165-1
- NGC 4145 Galaxy - Paired with H165-1
NGC 4214 Galaxy Herschel 400 H95-1
NGC 4242 Galaxy P214
NGC 4244 Galaxy C26
NGC 4258 Galaxy M106 Herschel 400 H43-5
NGC 4346 Galaxy Herschel 400 H210-1
NGC 4395 Galaxy P71
NGC 4449 Galaxy C21, Herschel 400 H213-1
NGC 4485 Galaxy Herschel 400 H197-1 Paired with H198-1
NGC 4490 Galaxy Herschel 400 H198-1 Cocoon Galaxy Paired with H197-1
NGC 4618 Galaxy Herschel 400 H178-1
NGC 4631 Galaxy C32, Herschel 400 H42-4 Whale Galaxy
- NGC 4627 Galaxy - Paired with C32
NGC 4656 Galaxy Herschel 400 H176-1 Hockey Stick Galaxy
- NGC 4657 Galaxy - Interacting with H176-1
NGC 4736 Galaxy M94
NGC 4800 Galaxy Herschel 400 H211-1
NGC 5005 Galaxy C29, Herschel 400 H96-1 Paired with H97-1
NGC 5033 Galaxy Herschel 400 H97-1 Paired with H96-1
NGC 5055 Galaxy M63 Sunflower Galaxy
NGC 5194 Galaxy M51 Whirlpool Galaxy
NGC 5195 Galaxy Herschel 400 H186-1 Paired with M51
NGC 5272 Globular Cluster M3
NGC 5273 Galaxy Herschel 400 H98-1
- NGC 5276 Galaxy - Paired with H98-1
NGC 5371 Galaxy P215
Constellation: Coma Berenices
NGC 4147 Globular Cluster Herschel 400 H19-1
NGC 4150 Galaxy Herschel 400 H73-1
NGC 4192 Galaxy M98
NGC 4203 Galaxy Herschel 400 H175-1
NGC 4245 Galaxy Herschel 400 H74-1
NGC 4251 Galaxy Herschel 400 H89-1
NGC 4254 Galaxy M99
NGC 4274 Galaxy Herschel 400 H75-1
NGC 4278 Galaxy Herschel 400 H90-1
NGC 4293 Galaxy Herschel 400 H5-5
NGC 4314 Galaxy Herschel 400 H76-1
NGC 4321 Galaxy M100
NGC 4350 Galaxy Herschel 400 H86-2
- NGC 4340 Galaxy - Paired with H86-2
NGC 4382 Galaxy M85
NGC 4394 Galaxy Herschel 400 H55-2 Paired with M85
NGC 4414 Galaxy Herschel 400 H77-1
NGC 4419 Galaxy Herschel 400 H113-1
NGC 4448 Galaxy Herschel 400 H91-1
NGC 4450 Galaxy Herschel 400 H56-2
NGC 4459 Galaxy Herschel 400 H161-1
NGC 4473 Galaxy Herschel 400 H114-2
NGC 4477 Galaxy Herschel 400 H115-2
- NGC4479 Galaxy - Paired with H115-2
NGC 4494 Galaxy Herschel 400 H83-1
NGC 4501 Galaxy M88
NGC 4548 Galaxy M91, Herschel 400 H120-2
NGC 4559 Galaxy C36, Herschel 400 H92-1
NGC 4565 Galaxy C38, Herschel 400 H24-5
NGC 4651 Galaxy P222
NGC 4689 Galaxy Herschel 400 H128-2
NGC 4725 Galaxy Herschel 400 H84-1
NGC 4826 Galaxy M64 Blackeye Galaxy
NGC 4889 Galaxy C35
NGC 5024 Globular Cluster M53
NGC 5053 Globular Cluster P78
NGC 4027 Galaxy Herschel 400 H296-2
NGC 4038 Galaxy C60, Herschel 400 H28.1-4 Antennae Galaxy (North)
NGC 4039 Galaxy Herschel 400 H28.2-4 Antennae Galaxy (South)
NGC 4361 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H65-1
NGC 2903 Galaxy Herschel 400 H56-1
NGC 2964 Galaxy Herschel 400 H114-1
- NGC 2968 Galaxy - Paired with H114-1
NGC 3190 Galaxy Herschel 400 H44-2
- NGC 3187 Galaxy - Paired with H44-2
NGC 3193 Galaxy Herschel 400 H45-2
NGC 3226 Galaxy Herschel 400 H28-2
- Paired with H29-2
NGC 3227 Galaxy Herschel 400 H29-2
- Paired with H28-2
NGC 3351 Galaxy M95
NGC 3368 Galaxy M96
NGC 3377 Galaxy Herschel 400 H99-2
NGC 3379 Galaxy M105, Herschel 400 H17-1
NGC 3384 Galaxy Herschel 400 H18-1
NGC 3412 Galaxy Herschel 400 H27-1
NGC 3489 Galaxy Herschel 400 H101-2
NGC 3521 Galaxy Herschel 400 H13-1
NGC 3593 Galaxy Herschel 400 H29-1
NGC 3607 Galaxy Herschel 400 H50-2
- Paired with H51-2
NGC 3608 Galaxy Herschel 400 H51-2
- Paired with H50-2
NGC 3623 Galaxy M65
NGC 3626 Galaxy C40, Herschel 400 H52-2
NGC 3627 Galaxy M66
NGC 3628 Galaxy Herschel 400 H8-5
NGC 3640 Galaxy Herschel 400 H33-2
- NGC 3641 Galaxy - Paired with H33-2
NGC 3655 Galaxy Herschel 400 H5-1
NGC 3686 Galaxy Herschel 400 H160-2
NGC 3810 Galaxy Herschel 400 H21-1
NGC 3900 Galaxy Herschel 400 H82-1
NGC 3912 Galaxy Herschel 400 H342-2
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