As we move into spring in the Northern Hemisphere, the night sky is blossoming with exciting observing opportunities. This April, there are planetary conjunctions, meteor showers and even a partial solar eclipse for a lucky few, as well as a few great deep-sky objects to hunt down. And don’t forget many Star Trek fan’s favorite holiday, happening April 5. First Contact Day celebrates the (future) 2063 anniversary of the first manned spacecraft to achieve light speed, as well as the first meeting between humans and Vulcans in the Star Trek universe. We have a few special challenges in honor of that momentous meeting, too!
What to See in the Night Sky in April
Start the month out with a close pass between Mars and Saturn, which will be in conjunction shortly before dawn on April 5. Venus, shining brightly, will be nearby as well, and will be hard to miss. Jupiter will eventually join the party, and the four planets form a neat line by mid-April.
Starting on April 15, look up for a chance to catch a fireball as the Lyrid meteor shower, which appears to come from the constellation Lyra, begins. The meteor shower, which happens yearly as the Earth’s orbit takes it through the debris trail from Comet Thatcher, is visible all around the world, though the show tends to be better in the Northern Hemisphere. A bright Moon will block out some of the show, but be sure to step outside the night of April 21-22 for your best chance to view the Lyrids. They’re still one of the best meteor showers of 2022. You can see meteors all night, but the Lyrids tend to peak around dawn, so stay up as long as you can for the best views, including some spectacular glowing gas trails!
For a more rare sight, it’s possible that we may be able to see Comet C/2021 O3 (PanSTARRS) on April 21. The comet will be passing close to the Sun that day, and could get as bright as fourth magnitude, making it visible to the naked eye. We’ll have to wait and see — look to the west-northwest sky after sunset that day for a potential comet sighting.
Then, at the end of April, Jupiter will near Venus in the east-southeast sky, with their closest conjunction on April 30. Also on the 30th, skywatchers in parts of South America (or a lucky few on a cruise in the far South Pacific) will get the chance to see a partial solar eclipse.
Deep-Sky Objects to See in April
Pleiades Star Cluster
For observers in the Northern Hemisphere, April will be one of your last chances to see the famous Seven Sisters in the night sky until next winter. The Pleiades star cluster – perhaps the world’s most famous star cluster – appears as a hazy collection of stars located in the constellation Taurus. One of the nearest clusters to Earth, the Pleiades actually boast a mass of more than 800 suns. And while the Pleiades is visible to the naked eye, a good telescope will unlock far richer details, letting you see many more of the stars within.
On April 4 and 5, the Pleiades will appear in the sky near both the crescent Moon and the Hyades star cluster, making a magnificent night-sky sight.
In celebration of Easter, observe this egg-shaped emission nebula in the constellation Cassiopeia! Visible to observers in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as some in the tropical regions of the Southern Hemisphere, the Bubble Nebula, or NGC 7635, is a cloud of dust and gas blown out by a young, very active star, glowing from its radiation.
For those in the Southern Hemisphere, check out the Tarantula Nebula! Thought to be the most active starburst region in any nearby galaxy, this bright, complex area of star formation is also host to SN 1987A, the closest supernova observed since the invention of the telescope.
First Contact Day
Back in the first season of the original Star Trek the Enterprise bridge set included images of familiar astronomical objects (M31 & M57). I decided to "update" this shot by replacing the classic images with ones I shot with my @Unistellar telescope. pic.twitter.com/YqHYA5QRSz
— Scott Kardel (@palomarskies) March 31, 2022
See Unistellar Ambassador Scott Kardel’s full Twitter thread here
Is there a better way to observe First Contact Day than by looking up at the stars? We don’t think so (at least until a warp drive is invented). On April 5, celebrate humanity’s future meeting with the Vulcans by seeking out a few iconic sights and places from the Star Trek series!
The Enterprise often visited star systems that exist in real life, and images from actual observatories decorated the view screens on the USS Enterprise’s bridge. You can find many of these in the night sky, including classics like the Andromeda Galaxy and the Ring Nebula, as well as stars like Vega and Altair. If you’re lucky, you might even get a glimpse of the site of the most famous Federation battle in all of Star Trek: Wolf 359.
You can find a longer list of Star Trek sights in this Twitter thread from Unistellar Ambassador Scott Kardel, along with images from his own eVscope!
For more First Contact Day fun, check out our blog featuring Unistellar Ambassador Tim Russ, who played Star Trek Voyager’s Tuvok. The post features even more objects visited by the Enterprise.
We encourage you to share your observations and join the conversation through our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages using the hashtag #UnistellarChallenge!
If you’d like to send us your observations by email, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clear skies! 🔭