A slim crescent Moon will this week signal the start of the Islamic festival of Ramadan.
Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.
Welcome to the best week for stargazing in April. Not only does it begin with a New Moon, but there follows a few evenings where you’ll be able to spot an ever-increasing crescent Moon. What’s more, it’s a highly significant one, its first sighting kicking-off Ramadan. This week also sees the official return of Venus to the evening sky as well as a sky-full of Spring stars—not least those of Leo, the Lion. But not before a very special night of celebration for space fans worldwide …
Yuri Gagarin, Russian cosmonaut, 1961. Gagarin (1934-1968) became the first man in space when he … [ ] orbited the Earth aboard Vostok 1 on 12 April 1961. He was killed in a plane crash while on a routine training flight on 27 March 1968. Found in the collectio (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
At 02:31 Universal Time today it’s New Moon, so its a great night for stargazing. It’s also a night to remember a few key milestones in the history of spaceflight. Today is International Day of Human Space Flight and the 60th anniversary of the launch of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1 to become the first man in space. Tonight is a “world space party” called Yuri’s Night. It’s also the 40th anniversary of the inaugural launch of the first Space Shuttle on April 12, 1981.
The 30-day Islamic festival of Ramadan begins with the first sighting of the super-slim crescent Moon over Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad. That crescent Moon may be sighted as a tiny crescent on Monday, but it’s far more likely to be seen this evening at dusk as a brighter 3% crescent slightly higher in the western sky.
Look midway up the western sky after dark to see a waxing 13%-lit waxing crescent Moon shining high in the southwestern sky between two of the closest open clusters of stars to the Solar System—the Pleiades and the Hyades—in the constellation of Taurus. Bright orange supergiant star Aldebaran will lurk on the Moon’s left-hand side.
In the pre-dawn sky Jupiter appear to pass very close to star called 51 Capricorn in the same constellation. Put binoculars or a small a telescope on Jupiter and you’ll see “51 Cap” as an “extra moon” between Callisto and Europa. It’s obviously only a line-of-sight phenomena since Jupiter is 820 million kilometers from us while the star is 89 light-years away.
Tonight after dusk you’ll be able to see, high in the southwestern sky, a now 20%-lit waxing crescent Moon roughly between the blue-giant stars Tianguan (445 light-years distant) and Elnath (130 light-years) , which represent the tips of the horns of Taurus, the bull, and only 5º from Mars.
Look to the southwest after dark and you’ll the the ‘red planet’ about 5º from a 28%-lit Moon. As seen from parts of Asia only, the ‘red planet’ will tonight be occulted—covered-up—by the Moon for a few hours.
The “Evening Star” is back! Look west just after the Sun has sunk this evening and you’ll see the planet Venus, though there’s no real need to look tonight. In fact, it will become much easier, much brighter and much easier to spot in the coming weeks and months … in fact, it will be riding ever higher in evening sky until mid-December!
Look between the Big Dipper and Orion—roughly south but high in the sky—and you’ll find the constellation of Leo. Visible all night long in April, Leo is dominated by the star Denebola at the tip of its tail and, closer to Orion, Regulus at one of the lion’s front paws, Leo is most famous for the “question mark” shape that makes-up the lion’s head. It’s actually backwards, with Regulus as the period.
Times and dates given apply to mid-northern latitudes. For the most accurate location-specific information consult online planetariums like Stellarium and The Sky Live. Check planet-rise/planet-set, sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times for where you are.
I’m an experienced science, technology and travel journalist and stargazer writing about exploring the night sky, solar and lunar eclipses, moon-gazing, astro-travel,
I’m an experienced science, technology and travel journalist and stargazer writing about exploring the night sky, solar and lunar eclipses, moon-gazing, astro-travel, astronomy and space exploration. I’m the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com and the author of « A Stargazing Program for Beginners: A Pocket Field Guide » (Springer, 2015), as well as many eclipse-chasing guides.
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