Initially it has a Jupiter will transit before around BST in early April and by around BST at its end and so will enable the giant planet to be well seen with the equatorial bands, sometimes the Great but reducing in size Red Spot and up to four of its Gallilean moons visible in a small telescope. Jupiter will reach opposition on the night of May th. Atmospheric dispersion will thus hinder our view and it might be worth considering purchasing the ZWO Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector to counteract its effects.
Saturn , now well into its new apparition, rises at around am at the start of the month and just after 1 am at its end. Saturn, lying in Sagittarius, is close to the topmost star of the 'teapot'. Sadly, even when at opposition later in the year it will only reach an elevation of just over 15 degrees above the horizon when crossing the meridian.
Double Star Observing Section
Atmospheric dispersion will thus greatly hinder our view and, as for Jupiter, it might be worth considering purchasing the ZWO Atmospheric Dispersion Corrector to counteract its effects. Mercury passes in front of the Sun inferior conjunction on April 1st and, rising out of the Sun's glare, reaches greatest western elongation of 27 degrees on April 29th.
But, due to the fact that the ecliptic makes a shallow angle to the horizon at this time of the year, it never gets more than 10 degrees above the horizon even when furthest in angle from the Sun. Not one of its better apparitions. Mars starts the month in Sagittarius close to the topmost star of the 'teapot' close to Saturn. Now a morning object, it rises at around 2 am BST at the start of the month. Sadly, the atmosphere will hinder our view.
Venus , seen low in the west after sunset, shines at magnitude Venus rises a little higher in the sky as April progresses, initially setting around one hour and a half after the Sun but increasing to two hours by month's end as its elevation at sunset increases from 18 to 25 degrees - so by month's end it will become quite prominent in the evening sky. Venus starts the month in Aries but, moving higher in declination, passes into Taurus on the 20th before passing between the Hyades and Pleiades Clusters on the 27th.
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Radar image showing surface features. This map shows the constellations seen in the south in mid-evening. The constellation Gemini is now setting towards the south-west and Leo holds pride sic of place in the south with its bright star Regulus. Between Gemini and Leo lies Cancer. It is well worth observing with binoculars to see the Beehive Cluster at its heart. Below Gemini is the tiny constellation of Canis Minor whose only bright star is Procyon.
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Rising in the south-east is the constellation Virgo whose brightest star is Spica. Though Virgo has few bright stars it is in the direction of of a great cluster of galaxies - the Virgo Cluster - which lies at the centre of the supercluster of which our local group of galaxies is an outlying member. The constellation Ursa Major is high in the northern sky during the evening this month and contains many interesting objects. Gemini - The Twins - lies up and to the left of Orion and is in the south-west during early evenings this month.
It contains two bright stars Castor and Pollux of 1. In fact the Castor system has 6 stars - each of the two seen in the telescope is a double star, and there is a third, 9th magnitude, companion star 73 arcseconds away which is alos a double star! Pollux is a red giant star of spectral class K0. The planet Pluto was discovered close to delta Geminorum by Clyde Tombaugh in The variable star shown to the lower right of delta Geminorum is a Cepheid variable, changing its brightness from 3.
M35 is an open star cluster comprising several hundred stars around a hundred of which are brighter than magnitude 13 and so will be seen under dark skies with a relativly small telescope. It is easily spotted with binoculars close to the "foot" of the upper right twin. A small telescope at low power using a wide field eyepiece will show it at its best. Those using larger telescopes - say 8 to 10 inches - will spot a smaller compact cluster NGC close by.
NGC is four times more distant that M35 and ten times older, so the hotter blue stars will have reached the end of their lives leaving only the longer-lived yellow stars like our Sun to dominate its light. As the Hubble Space Telescope image shows, it resembles a head surrounded by the fur collar of a parka hood - hence its other name The Eskimo Nebula.
The white dwarf remnant is seen at the centre of the "head". The Nebula was discovered by William Herschel in It lies about light years away from us. The constellation Leo is now in the south-eastern sky in the evening. One of the few constellations that genuinely resembles its name, it looks likes one of the Lions in Trafalger Square, with its main and head forming an arc called the Sickle to the upper right, with Regulus in the position of its right knee.
Regulus is a blue-white star, five times bigger than the sun at a distance of 90 light years. It shines at magnitude 1. Algieba, which forms the base of the neck, is the second brightest star in Leo at magnitude 1.
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With a telescope it resolves into one of the most magnificent double stars in the sky - a pair of golden yellow stars! They orbit their common centre of gravity every years. This lovely pair of orange giants are light years away. Leo also hosts two pairs of Messier galaxies which lie beneath its belly.
The first pair lie about 9 degrees to the west of Regulus and comprise M95 to the east and M They are almost exactly at the same declination as Regulus so, using an equatorial mount, centre on Regulus, lock the declination axis and sweep towards the west 9 degrees. They are both close to 9th magnitude and may bee seen together with a telescope at low power or individually at higher powers. M65 is a type Sa spiral lying at a distance of 35 millin klight years and M66, considerably bigger than M65, is of type Sb.
Type Sa spirals have large nuclei and very tightly wound spiral arms whilst as one moves through type Sb to Sc, the nucleus becomes smaller and the arms more open. The second pair of galaxies, M95 and M96, lie a further 7 degrees to the west between the stars Upsilon and Iota Leonis. M95 is a barred spiral of type SBb. It lies at a distance of 38 million light years and is magnitude 9. M96, a type Sa galaxy, is slightly further away at 41 million light years, but a little brighter with a magnitude of 9.
Both are members of the Leo I group of galaxies and are visible together with a telescope at low power. It lies a little below lambda Leonis and was discovered by William Herschel. No in the New General Catalogue, it is a beautiful type Sb galaxy which is seen at somewhat of an oblique angle. It lies at a distance of Virgo, rising in the east in late evening this month, is not one of the most prominent constellations, containing only one bright star, Spica, but is one of the largest and is very rewarding for those with "rich field" telescopes capable of seeing the many galaxies that lie within its boundaries.
Spica is, in fact, an exceedingly close double star with the two B type stars orbiting each other every 4 days. Their total luminosity is times that of our Sun. In the upper right hand quadrant of Virgo lies the centre of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. There are 13 galaxies in the Messier catalogue in this region, all of which can be seen with a small telescope. The brightest is the giant elliptical galaxy, M87, with a jet extending from its centre where there is almost certainly a massive black hole into which dust and gas are falling.
This releases great amounts of energy which powers particles to reach speeds close to the speed of light forming the jet we see. Below Porrima and to the right of Spica lies M, an 8th magnitude spiral galaxy about 30 million light years away from us. Its spiral arms are edge on to us so in a small telescope it appears as an elliptical galaxy. It is also known as the Sombrero Galaxy as it looks like a wide brimmed hat in long exposure photographs. The stars of the Plough, shown linked by the thicker lines in the chart above, form one of the most recognised star patterns in the sky.
Also called the Big Dipper , after the soup ladles used by farmer's wives in America to serve soup to the farm workers at lunchtime, it forms part of the Great Bear constellation - not quite so easy to make out! The stars Merak and Dubhe form the pointers which will lead you to the Pole Star, and hence find North. The stars Alcor and Mizar form a naked eye double which repays observation in a small telescope as Mizar is then shown to be an easily resolved double star. A fainter reddish star forms a triangle with Alcor and Mizar. Ursa Major contains many interesting "deep sky" objects.
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The brightest, listed in Messier's Catalogue, are shown on the chart, but there are many fainter galaxies in the region too. In the upper right of the constellation are a pair of interacting galaxies M81 and M82 shown in the image below. M82 is undergoing a major burst of star formation and hence called a "starburst galaxy".
They can be seen together using a low power eyepiece on a small telescope. Another, and very beautiful, galaxy is M which looks rather like a pinwheel firework, hence its other name the Pinwheel Galaxy.