It's hard to believe, but almost we've reached that time of the year when stargazers don't necessarily need to grab hats, gloves and other warmth-inducing accessories. We like to think of April as the gateway to those evenings in the summer when all that will be required is a blanket on the lawn and a cold beverage.
But regardless of how temperamental the weather may be where you are, there's plenty in the evening sky to keep you distracted this month. What celestial events do the heavens have in store? Check out our list below for some April highlights. Wishing you clear evenings!
An April Fools' comet (April 1)
Comet 41P shines brightly in this image captured on March 22, 2017, from the Knight Observatory in Portugal. (Photo: Kees Scherer/flickr)
On April 1, Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák will make its closest approach to Earth in over a century. First discovered in 1858, the comet makes its way around the sun every 5.5 years. On April Fools' Day, it will come within 14 million miles of our planet. While this isn't close enough for the naked eye, amateur astronomers using backyard telescopes will easily be able to spot it.
If you're not in an area with dark skies or lack the necessary equipment, no worries. You can catch this celestial event online via a livestream from telescopes in the Canary Islands. The comet is also expected to remain visible from backyard telescopes through the middle of the month.
Jupiter and the moon hold court (April 10)
Jupiter will have an extremely close alignment with our moon on April 10, a rare event that only occurs a few times in a generation. (Photo: Doggettx/flickr)
The mighty Jupiter, the brightest point of light in April's evening sky (at least, until Venus rises just before dawn), will reach opposition (its closest approach to Earth) on April 7. Only a few days later, however, it will have an extremely rare alignment with the rising full moon, coming within a 10th of a degree. This close approach only happens a few times in a generation, so be sure to make a point to look up on the 10th.
"If the clouds cooperate, this will be the best planet photo opportunity of the decade," reports Randy McAllister. "As soon as the twilight sets in, [look up] and you won’t miss the pair traveling across the sky all evening and into the morning."
The Pink Moon (April 11)
The full 'pink' moon is so-named to make the appearance of the moss pink, or phlox, flower. (Photo: Luz Adriana Villa/flickr)
Sorry to disappoint, but the moon will not actually turn a shade of pink on April 11. Instead, this nickname comes from the appearance of wild ground phlox and its stunning pink flowers throughout North America. The April full moon is also known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon and the Fish Moon.
This month's full moon will be at its largest on April 11 at about 2:08 a.m.
SpaceX Falcon 9 launch of classified payload (April 16)
After the successful launch in late March using a recycled Falcon 9 booster, a world first, SpaceX will next turn its attention to launching a classified spacecraft on April 16. The mission will mark the first time that the company has worked with the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office to deliver a secret payload into space.
For those who've never watched a SpaceX launch before, part of the excitement in viewing the company's livestreams is witnessing not only liftoff, but also the dramatic reentry and landing of the Falcon 9 booster. Thanks to cameras on the ground and on the rocket itself, the missions offer an up-close (and sometimes historic) view of spaceflight.
'Potentially hazardous' asteroid (April 19)
The 2014 JO25 asteroid is expected to make its close approach to Earth on April 19, according to NASA. The asteroid could be as much as 1.4 kilometers (.87 miles) wide and will be about 4.6 lunar distances (1.7 million kilometers) away from Earth. The object is classified as "potentially hazardous asteroid" or PHA, meaning it has the potential to make a threatening close approach to Earth.
According to NASA's Near Earth Object Studies:
"This 'potential' to make close Earth approaches does not mean a PHA will impact the Earth. It only means there is a possibility for such a threat. By monitoring these PHAs and updating their orbits as new observations become available, we can better predict the close-approach statistics and thus their Earth-impact threat."
First manned launch of 2017 (April 20)
A Soyuz MS-04 rocket is expected to launch with a reduced crew on April 20th from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Photo: NASA Johnson/flickr)
NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos will ride a Soyuz MS-04 rocket to the International Space Station on April 20. The spacecraft, which will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, will take about six hours to reach and dock with the ISS.
The pair are scheduled to return to Earth in September.
Lyrid meteor shower (April 22)
The annual Lyrid meteor shower appears to radiate from the constellation Lyra the Harp, near the star Vega. (Photo: Islam Hassan/flickr)
The annual Lyrid meteor shower, which dates back through recorded history an astounding 2,600 years, will reach its peak on the morning of April 22.
Unlike other annual meteor showers like the Perseids or Leonids, the Lyrids aren't particularly well known in modern times for lighting up the night with shooting stars. That said, thanks to dark skies in advance of an approaching new moon, you should see at least 10 to 20 hours per hour during the shower's peak.
But hey, you never know. Back in 1982 and 1922, upwards of 100 meteors per hour were counted. In 1803, a stunning 700 per hour were witnessed.
"This electrical phenomenon was observed on Wednesday morning last at Richmond and its vicinity, in a manner that alarmed many, and astonished every person that beheld it," wrote a journalist at the time. "From one until three in the morning, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemble a shower of sky rockets ..."
New moon (April 26)
April closes out with a new moon, making this the best time of the month to view faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters. So get out those telescopes and enjoy the (slightly) warmer evenings!
Only a few days later on April 29, the world celebrates International Astronomy Day. Local stargazing clubs, as well as observatories and other astronomy groups, will likely be holding special events. Jump here to search for a group near you to get involved!
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in March 2017.