April 2020: What’s in the Sky this month

What’s in the

What’s in the sky this month – Ian Bradley EAS

Useful resources

Binocular sky newsletter

Ian Morrison’s [Jodrell Bank] monthly notes

Set your location in Heavens Above for such as:

Nothing much this month after some great passes in March.

Astronomical darkness

Astronomical darkness
start end
April 1 21:57 04:30
April 8 22:17 04:07
April 15 22:38 03:41
April 25 23:16 03:00
April 30 23:39 02:36

Now that we are in the spring and the clock has switched to daylight saving [summer] time. Astronomical dark times are getting much shorter.

Of course, you can still see brighter objects during astronomical twilight. Go out and have a look!

For the Astronomical times today see Kendal Ephemeris for today on our Welcome page

The Moon

With a full moon on April 7 th , we’ll struggle to see much a few days either side of that.


Venus has been unmissable at sunset. It shows a lovely crescent phase in a small telescope: 47% on April 1 st , 37% by April 15 th and only 25% by the end of the month. The planets angular size also increases by 50% during this period as the planet approaches the line joining Earth to the Sun – sadly no transit until 2117!

However, at the start of the month, the planet moves through the Pleiades, M45, so a great photo opportunity. The graphic below shows the view at 8pm BST on the relevant days. It will be better about 9pm the sky is darker.

Other planets

In the morning sky, we still have Mars, Jupiter and Saturn about 10 degrees above the horizon in the south-east on April 1st at 6am but with sunrise at 6:42 At 05:30, the planets are all only 5 degrees above the horizon. Mercury rises at 06:20 and will be quite tricky.

On April 15th, the three planets will be in a line and joined by a 3rd quarter Moon. Probably best around 5am before the sky becomes too light.


The obvious comet about at the moment is Comet C/2019 Y4 (Atlas). It is currently in Ursa Major at about magnitude 8 but it is predicted to brighten so that about Mid May it’ll be easy naked eye although quite low (20°-30° at around midnight but higher earlier on) in the north not that far from Capella. Predictions in brightness seem to vary – anywhere between +1 and -5! But one quote I came across sums it up “Comets are like cats. They have tails and they do whatever they want.” It should now appear as a round blob in a small telescope and possibly binoculars if you are lucky to live somewhere dark. Hopefully it’ll continue to brighten. Below is a picture I took on March 25th. There is now a clear tail developing.

So where will it be?

Deep Sky

Looking south

Dominated by the constellation of Leo. There is a cluster of galaxies (Leo Triplet of galaxies M65, M66 and NGC3628) visible in small telescopes below the tail of Leo. In addition, there is M3, a globular cluster which is nice in binoculars. Spectacular naked eye M44, Praesepe, makes a fine binocular or low power telescope object. There are two other open clusters, M48 and M67.

Looking west, mid-month (April 15 th ) at 10 pm

Dominated by Venus.

The constellation of Orion is now setting in the twilight but Gemini is prominent above and Auriga further north. There are a trio of Messier objects, M36, M37 and M38, in Auriga which are fine binocular targets, with M35 further south in Gemini. Beneath, the beautiful Pleiades are still visible.

Looking east, [below] mid-month (April 15 th ) at 10pm

Hercules is prominent with the large globular of M13 being an easy binocular object and lovely photographic target. In Virgo, there are loads of galaxies, the Virgo Cluster, including the spectacular Markarian’s Chain of large galaxies near to another supermassive elliptical galaxy M87.

Looking north, [below] mid-month (April 15 th ) at 10pm

To complete the circuit… With the Milky Way spanning the northern horizon, there are lots of star clusters to look for… a scan with binoculars will be rewarding. There is the spectacular Double Cluster in Perseus. Just above in Camelopardalis is the asterism of Kemble’s Cascade, a string of stars running diagonally up and right to a small cluster of stars, NGC1502. The stars in the chain are quite colourful, if you can find them! The Cassiopeia area is rich in clusters.

Looking up, [below] mid-month (April 15 th ) at 10pm

Here Ursa Major dominates. An area rich in telescopic galaxies, some just visible in binoculars. M81 and M82 are a spectacular pairing. M101, the Pinwheel galaxy and M51, actually in Canes Venatici, are stunning photographic objects if you can spend time on them. The nearby Owl Nebula M97 is also interesting – a visually circular planetary nebula with two darker spots resembling the head and eyes of an owl. All of these objects, as they are well placed, I’ve imaged recently.

Next Observing Evening

Given the current situation regarding coronavirus, observing evenings can not occur.