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The annual Lyrids meteor shower peaks during the night of April 21st/22nd but unfortunately the full Moon will interfere significantly. Normally you would expect to see up to 20 meteors per hour under ideal conditions, however due to the presence of the Moon only the brightest few meteors will be visible. It is still worth looking outside as the Lyrids do occasionally produce brilliant fireballs that streak through the sky and cast shadows as they disintegrate in the Earth's atmosphere.
Jupiter is now past opposition but remains a stunning evening object in the constellation of Leo. After sunset the giant planet can be seen above the southeastern horizon (Northern Hemisphere) / northeastern horizon (Southern Hemisphere). It's not possible to miss Jupiter, with an apparent magnitude of -2.4 the planet is 2.5x brighter than Sirius and brighter than all other planets except for Venus. It dominates the surrounding region of sky.
On the evenings of April 17th and 18th a lovely pairing occurs when the waxing gibbous Moon passes just a few degrees south of the planet.
Periodic comet 252P/LINEAR which has an orbital period of 5.33 years has now just past perihelion - closest point to the Sun - and should remain visible with binoculars and small scopes in the early morning April skies. Although only discovered at the turn of the century this comet has surprised astronomers by its brightness, over 100x more than originally predicted. On March 21st it passed just 0.036 A.U. (14 Moon distances) from the Earth and shone at mag. +3.9 and therefore visible to the naked eye.
Mercury reaches greatest elongation east (GEE) on April 18th when it's positioned 19.9 degrees from the Sun. The nearest planet to the Sun will be visible during April low down above the west-northwestern horizon shortly after sunset. This months apparition offers the best opportunity (evening) for observers at northern latitudes to spot the elusive planet this year. From equatorial regions Mercury is also visible during April but from mid-southern latitudes unfortunately not.
Algol (β Per) is a bright eclipsing binary system located in the northern constellation of Perseus and one of the best-known variable stars in the sky. Often referred to as the "Demon Star" most of the time it shines at magnitude +2.1 but every two days, 20 hours and 49 minutes the star suddenly dips in brightness to magnitude +3.4, remaining dim for about 10 hours before returning to its original state.
Why the change in brightness? The Algol system consists of at least three-stars (β Per A, β Per B and β Per C) with the orbital plane of Algol A and B directly in line with the Earth. The regular dips in brightness occur when the dimmer B star moves in front of and eclipses the brighter A star. There is also an extra dimension in that a secondary eclipse occurs when the brighter star occults the fainter secondary but this results in a very small dip in brightness that can only be detected by those with access to photoelectrical equipment.
Mercury is visible as an evening object for observers at northern and equatorial latitudes during April (apart from the few days at the start and end of the month). For this apparition the planet can be seen low down above the west-northwestern horizon just after sunset. The peak altitude occurs on April 18th when greatest elongation east (GEE) is reached. On this day, from London for example, the planet will be visible as a mag. -0.1 point of light 10 degrees above the horizon, 45 minutes after sunset. Observers should also note that Mercury is at its brightest at the start of the month and before GEE occurs. It decreases from mag. -1.4 to +2.1 during the visibility period.
On April 8th the thin waxing crescent Moon passes 5 degrees south of Mercury, aiding in locating the planet.
Mars and Saturn are currently positioned only a few degrees apart in their respective southern constellations of Scorpius and Ophiuchus. From March 28th to 30th some nice visual and photographic opportunities occur when the waning gibbous Moon is also positioned close by.
Currently the two planets are better seen from tropical and southern locations where they rise earlier in the evening and appear higher in the sky than for those living further north. For example, from Cape Town, South Africa or Sydney, Australia the planets are visible well before midnight but from locations such as London, England or New York, USA they don't rise until a few hours later.
Jupiter is now just past a few days past opposition and remains a brilliant object moving retrograde in southeastern Leo. The giant planet with a diameter 11 times that of the Earth rises in the east just before sunset remaining visible for most of the night. Now at its best for the year the "King of the planets" is unmistakable (mag. -2.5) and much brighter than all night time stars.
On March 21st a nice visual event occurs when the almost full Moon passes 2 degrees south of Jupiter in the evening sky.
A total solar eclipse visible from Indonesia and the central Pacific region takes place on March 9, 2016. On this occasion the narrow totality band starts at sunrise over Sumatra before passing through Bangka Island, Palau Belitung, Central Kalimantan, Central Sulawesi, North Maluku, Woleai Atoll and ending in the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii. A partial eclipse is visible from large parts of Southeast Asia, Northern Australia, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, China and Alaska. Readers should be aware that since the shadow crosses the International Date Line for locations such as Alaska and Hawaii the eclipse takes place on March 8th.
A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly between the Earth and the Sun, hence the Sun's disk is obscured as seen from the ground. Total eclipses are only possible due to a large slice of nature's luck. By sheer coincidence the Sun is about 400 times larger in size than the Moon but also 400 times more distance resulting in both objects appearing about the same size in the sky. However, it should be noted that due to distance variations the apparent sizes of the Sun and Moon do show small variations and at times the Moon will appear slightly larger in the sky than the Sun and vice-versa. A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon's apparent diameter is large enough to completely cover the Sun and therefore block all direct sunlight, in the process turning day into darkness.