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Night Sky: Visible Planets, Moon Phases & Events, April 2015

The night sky tonight and on any clear night offers an ever-changing display of fascinating objects you can see, from stars and constellations to bright planets, often the moon, and sometimes special events like meteor showers. Observing the night sky can be done with no special equipment, although a sky map can be very useful, and a good beginner telescope or binoculars will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view. You can also use astronomy accessories to make your observing easier. Below, find out what’s up in the night sky tonight (Planets Visible Now, Moon Phases, Observing Highlights This Month) plus other resources (Skywatching Terms, Night Sky Observing Tips and Further Reading).

night sky watching
The night sky is more than just the moon and stars, if you know when and where to look.
Credit: Karl Tate/SPACE.com

Monthly skywatching information is provided to Space.com by Geoff Gaherty of Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu.

Editor's note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com. [Related: 10 Must-See Stargazing Events to Look Up for in 2015]

Night Sky Photos:

Videos

Moon Phases

Saturday, April 4, 8:06 a.m. EDT

Full Moon

The Full Moon of April is known as the "Seed Moon," "Pink Moon," "Sprouting Grass Moon," "Egg Moon," or "Fish Moon." It rises around sunset and sets around sunrise; this is the only night in the month when the moon is in the sky all night long. The rest of the month, the moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky.

Saturday, April 11, 11:44 p.m. EDT

Last Quarter Moon

The Last Quarter Moon rises around 2:30 a.m. and sets around 1 p.m. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.

 

New Moon, April 2015
Saturday, April 18, 2:57 p.m. EDT. The moon is not visible on the date of New Moon because it is too close to the sun, but can be seen low in the east as a narrow crescent a morning or two before, just before sunrise. It is visible low in the west an evening or two after New Moon.
Credit: Starry Night Software

Saturday, April 18, 2:57 p.m. EDT

New Moon

The moon is not visible on the date of New Moon because it is too close to the sun, but can be seen low in the east as a narrow crescent a morning or two before, just before sunrise. It is visible low in the west an evening or two after New Moon.

Saturday, April 25, 7:55 p.m. EDT

First Quarter Moon

The First Quarter Moon rises around noon and sets around 2:30 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.

Observing Highlights

 

Total Lunar Eclipse, April 2015
The best locations for observing this eclipse will be islands in the Pacific Ocean and nearby mainlands.
Credit: Starry Night Software

Total Lunar Eclipse

Saturday, April 4, 5:01 a.m.–10:59 a.m. EDT, 2:01 a.m.–7:59 a.m. PDT

The best locations for observing this eclipse will be islands in the Pacific Ocean and nearby mainlands. For observers in North America, this eclipse occurs near the western horizon around the time of moonset, just before the sun rises in the east. For observers in the east, the moon will set while partially eclipsed; observers in the west will see all of totality. A low western horizon is essential. Observers in Australia and eastern Asia will see the eclipse just after sunset and will need a low eastern horizon.

Saturn and the Moon

Wednesday, April 8, dawn

The moon will pass just north of Saturn just before sunrise.

Venus and the Pleiades

Saturday, April 11, dusk

Venus passes within 3 degrees of the Pleiades star cluster.

Venus, Aldebaran, and the moon

Tuesday, April 21, 1 hour after sunset

The moon will pass close to Venus and the bright red star Aldebaran.

Mercury and Mars

Wednesday, April 22, 30 minutes after sunset

Keen-eyed observers may be able to spot Mercury and Mars just a degree apart low in the western sky. Binoculars will be helpful. Use Venus to help locate them.

Juno and the Moon, April 2015
Sunday, April 26, just before moonset. Just before moonset, look for 9th magnitude asteroid Juno just above the moon. This will be around 2 a.m. in eastern North America. The moon will occult Juno as seen from eastern Asia, Melanesia, and Polynesia.
Credit: Starry Night Software

Juno and the Moon

Sunday, April 26, just before moonset

Just before moonset, look for 9th magnitude asteroid Juno just above the moon. This will be around 2 a.m. in eastern North America. The moon will occult Juno as seen from eastern Asia, Melanesia, and Polynesia.

Planets

Mercury is too close to the sun to observe most of the month.

Venus shines high in the western sky after sunset.

Mars spends all of April in Aries, getting ever closer to the sun.

Jupiter just well placed in the evening sky. It is in Cancer all month.

Saturn is just north of Scorpius' "claws," rising in the late evening.

Uranus is too close to the sun all month to be observed. It is in Pisces.

Neptune, April 2015
Neptune rises just before the sun in the constellation Aquarius.
Credit: Starry Night Software

Neptune rises just before the sun in the constellation Aquarius.

Skywatching Terms

  • Asterism: A noteworthy or striking pattern of stars within a larger constellation.
  • Degrees (measuring the sky): The sky is 360 degrees all the way around, which means roughly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It’s easy to measure distances between objects: Your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky.
  • Visual Magnitude: This is the astronomer’s scale for measuring the brightness of objects in the sky. The dimmest object visible in the night sky under perfectly dark conditions is about magnitude 6.5. Brighter stars are magnitude 2 or 1. The brightest objects get negative numbers. Venus can be as bright as magnitude minus 4.9. The full moon is minus 12.7 and the sun is minus 26.8.
  • Terminator: The boundary on the moon between sunlight and shadow.
  • Zenith: The point in the sky directly overhead.

Night Sky Observing Tips

  • Adjust to the dark: If you wish to observe faint objects, such as meteors or dim stars, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness.
  • Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars and sometimes the brightest planets. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that represents our view toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy — rural areas are best for night sky viewing. If you’re stuck in a city or suburban area, a building can be used to block ambient light (or moonlight) to help reveal fainter objects. If you’re in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
  • Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be out for more than a few minutes, and it’s not a warm summer evening, dress warmer than you think necessary. An hour of observing a winter meteor shower can chill you to the bone. A blanket or lounge chair will prove much more comfortable than standing or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
  • Daytime skywatching: When Venus is visible (that is, not in front of or behind the sun) it can often be spotted during the day. But you’ll need to know where to look. A sky map is helpful. When the sun has large sunspots, they can be seen without a telescope. However, it’s unsafe to look at the sun without protective eyewear. See our video on how to safely observe the sun, or our safe sunwatching infographic.

Further Reading

Moon Phases: How the lunar cycle works, from full moon to new moon. Also find out when is the next full moon.

Constellations: The history of the Zodiac constellations and their place in night sky observing.

Lunar Eclipses: How they work, plus find out when’s the next lunar eclipse.

Solar Eclipses: How they work, the types, and when the next one occurs.

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