It's hard to believe, but we've almost reached that time of the year when stargazers don't necessarily need to grab hats, gloves and other cold weather accessories. We like to think of April as the gateway to those summer evenings when all that's required is a blanket and a cold beverage.
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!
The Pink Moon (April 7)
The full 'pink' moon is so-named because its timing follows the appearance of the moss pink, or phlox, flower. (Photo: Luz Adriana Villa [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)
Sorry to disappoint, but the moon won't actually turn a shade of pink on April 7. 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.
As mentioned in our 2020 roundup, April's full moon is the third of four supermoons for 2020 –– with the others occurring on Feb. 9, March 9 and May 7. A supermoon occurs when the moon is both full and at its closest approach to Earth (perigee) for a given monthly orbit. On average, supermoons appear roughly 16% larger than a standard full moon.
This month's full moon will be at its largest on April 7 at about 10:35 p.m. EST.
Catch a glimpse of the International Space Station (all month)
If you've never seen the International Space Station glide overhead, take a moment this month to change that! I've witnessed the event a handful of times, and it's rather incredible how bright the station becomes as it catches light from the sun. It's also fast –– with only a few minutes of observation before it loses its glint and dips below the horizon.
Want to give it a shot? The best place to start is NASA's excellent "Spot The Station" site, which provides dates and times and where to look based on your location. Another is Sky Guide, an app for your smartphone that will alert you where and when to look, and also give you information about all kinds of other incredible celestial sights above your head.
Comet ATLAS draws closer and grows brighter
Comet ATLAS as seen on March 27, 2020. (Photo: Stephen Rahn [public domain]/Flickr)
Comet ATLAS was only discovered in late December 2019, and it now racing towards our inner solar system and brightening at a rate that could make it visible to the naked eye by mid-late April. In the months after the comet makes its closest approach to Earth (on May 23 at a distance of 72 million miles) and the sun (on May 31 at a distance of only 23 million miles) it's possible it will brighten to anywhere from visible magnitude +1 to -5. That would potentially make ATLAS the brightest object in the night sky after the moon!
Lyrid meteor shower (April 21-22)
The annual Lyrid meteor shower appears to radiate from the constellation Lyra the Harp, near the star Vega. (Photo: Islam Hassan [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Flickr)
The annual Lyrid meteor shower, which dates back at least 2,600 years in recorded history, will reach its peak on evening of April 21 into 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. The best hours for viewing are the hours just before dawn when the brightest fireballs are visible. You'll have to pay close attention but you may be rewarded for your patience.
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 ..."
This year's Lyrids should be particularly bright thanks to the onset of a late New Moon giving way to exceptionally dark skies.
New moon (April 23)
While April's new moon peaks on April 23, those interested in viewing faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters should enjoy relatively dark skies until around the 27th. So get out those telescopes!
Venus reaches peak brightness for 2020 (April 27)
The moon and Venus seen over Chile in May 2017. (Photo: European Southern Observatory [CC by 2.0]/Flickr
The third brightest celestial object in the sky after the sun and moon, Venus will glow its brightest for all of 2020 on the evening of April 27. At its brightest, Venus is nearly three times brighter than at its faintest, according to EarthSky. Look for this spectacular planet to rise in the west just after sunset.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in March 2017.