THE MOON WILL be dancing with multiple planetary partners this month, offering delights in both the morning and evening skies. And as the nights get warmer for others, sky-watchers lingering outside will be in for a spring treat: a lovely meteor shower streaking across the constellation Lyra.
Moon meets Venus—April 2
Early risers on the second will be treated to the bright, star-like planet Venus snuggling close to the waning crescent moon. The pair will be hanging in the southeastern sky about an hour before local sunrise
Pallas at opposition—April 9
One of the largest known asteroids, 2 Pallas, will be at its brightest in our evening skies on the 9th, and will be easy to find as it glides past one of the brightest stars in the northern spring sky. Located some 147 million miles from Earth, the giant celestial rock will be officially at opposition, when it is opposite in the sky from the sun, as seen from Earth. Roughly 326 miles wide, Pallas will be a binocular target even from light-polluted city suburbs for the next couple of weeks.
Pallas is currently sailing through the bright constellation Boötes, the herdsman, located in the southeastern evening sky. It is visible very close to the bright orange star Arcturus; their apparent separation in the sky is about equal to the width of your fist held at arm’s length.
That makes the bright star a convenient guidepost for hunting down the asteroid. Start by using binoculars to home in on Arcturus around local midnight, when the constellation will reach its highest point in the sky. Because many of the points of light in this field of view can look the same, the best way to identify an asteroid is by its telltale motion. Sketch the position of about a dozen of the stars you see. In about half an hour, observe the same star field once more and make the same sketch. The one “star” that has moved will be Pallas.
Lyrid meteors peak—April 22
In the predawn hours of the 22nd, the Lyrid meteor shower will reach its peak. Under ideal, dark skies, we can expect to see anywhere between 15 to 20 shooting stars an hour during this annual shower. This year, however, sky-watchers will have to contend with a waning gibbous moon—only three days past the full phase—rising just before local midnight. This means the lunar glare will wash out the fainter shooting stars around dawn, and the best views might be relegated to the darker late nights of the 21st and 22nd.
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Oldest Recorded Meteor Shower Named after constellation Lyra, the Lyrids are one of the oldest recorded meteor showers—according to some historical Chinese texts, the shower was seen over 2,500 years ago. April 22, 2019