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.
What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: April 5-11, 2021
It’s International Dark Sky Week, which for the second year in a row will be a virtual event. It’s a time to stargaze, yes, but it’s also a time to think about light pollution. It’s blocking-out the stars for much of the world, preventing birds and mammals (including us) from getting proper sleep, and it’s also a pointless waste of electricity.
If you do achieve sufficient darkness then cast your eyes to the southwest after dark to enjoy Orion’s Belt while you can. It’s now sinking a few hours after darkness falls—and that means it’s almost time to say goodbye to the starry skies of winter.
Those who rise early this week should look to the southeastern pre-dawn night sky will see a waning crescent Moon first skim Saturn, then Jupiter against the backdrop of the constellation of Capricorn, the ‘sea goat.’
Monday, April 5, 2021: A crescent Moon with Jupiter and Saturn
Just before daybreak a 39%-illuminated waning Moon will be visible low on the southeastern horizon, with Saturn to the east and, slightly further east and closer to the horizon, brighter Jupiter.
Tuesday, April 6, 2021: A crescent Moon close to Saturn
A waning crescent Moon—now 29%-lit—will this morning be just below Saturn—just 4º from the “ringed planet”—forming a triangle with it and Jupiter.
It all takes place in twilight, but should be relatively easy to see in the southeastern sky.
Wednesday, April 7, 2021: A slender crescent Moon close to Jupiter
A third pre-dawn Moon-planet conjunction in succession sees a now 20%-lit crescent Moon just 4.4º below Jupiter.
It’s going to be very low on the horizon so harder to see in the gathering dawn, but it’s is probably the highlight of the three views this week because Jupiter will be much brighter than Saturn.
Friday, April 9, 2021: A launch to the ISS from Russia
For over two decades Russian Soyuz rockets have been launching crew to the International Space Station. The commercial SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon Crew spacecraft are now doing that job for U.S. astronauts, but today nevertheless sees NASA flight engineer Mark Vande Hei launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos You can watch their Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft begin its three-and-a-half hour journey live on NASA TV.
Object of the week: the Milky Way rising
The bright centre of our galaxy is a seasonal event and it helps to know when it’s “up.”
It emerges from the horizon in April, rising around midnight in the southeast, though it’s much easier to see in August and September from mid-north latitudes as it becomes visible right after sunset.
The further south you travel on our planet the more of our galaxy’s bright core becomes visible.
Planet of the week: Mars
Mars is six months beyond its bright opposition, though NASA’s Perseverance rover continues to keep it in the news. The “red planet” is steadily fading, but for now it’s still very easy to see through between dusk and after midnight.
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.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.