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 evenings in the summer 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!
New moon (April 5)
While April's new moon peaks on the 5th, those interested in viewing faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters should enjoy relatively dark skies until around the 10th. So get out those telescopes!
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy soars once more (April 7)
A little over a year removed from its successful maiden test flight, SpaceX's Falcon Heavy –– the most powerful operational rocket in the world –– will attempt to launch its first commercial payload with the Arabsat 6A communications satellite. As it stands, the Falcon Heavy is expected to perform a static test fire on April 1st followed by a launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the 7th.
While its first flight was nearly flawless (with the most notable error being the center core's failure to land on its drone ship), Falcon Heavy's engineering has changed a bit from its February 2018 original. For one thing, the three boosters will be utilizing Block 5 hardware, which allows for improved thrust, performance and stability of the landing legs. This new architecture should also mean we'll see an uptick in the frequency of Falcon Heavy launches.
"The design intent is that the rocket can be reflown with zero hardware changes," CEO Elon Musk said in 2017. "In other words, the only thing you change is you reload the propellant."
For those who've never watched a SpaceX launch before, part of the excitement in viewing the company's livestream 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. (MNN has been picking up these livestreams on affiliated Facebook pages.)
First private landing on the moon (April 11)
On April 11th, a robotic lander known as Beresheet will attempt to make history as the first private spacecraft to execute a soft landing on the moon. Created by nonprofit group SpaceIL and the company Israel Aerospace Industries, the historic spaceflight is presently in the running to win the X Prize Foundation's million-dollar "Moonshot Award."
"SpaceIL's mission represents the democratization of space exploration," X Prize founder Peter Diamandis said in a statement. "We are optimistic about seeing this first domino fall, setting off a chain reaction of increasingly affordable and repeatable commercial missions to the moon and beyond."
Should SpaceIL pull off its landing on the moon, it will join an exclusive club that includes only the Soviet Union, the United States and China.
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 make it happen! 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 on all kinds of other incredible highlights and celestial sights above your head.
The Pink Moon (April 19)
The full 'pink' moon is so-named because its timing follows the appearance of the moss pink, or phlox, flower. (Photo: Luz Adriana Villa/Flickr)
Sorry to disappoint, but the moon won't actually turn a shade of pink on April 19. 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 19 at about 7:12 a.m.
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 in recorded history at least 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. The timing with a waning (but still bright) gibbous moon will only complicate matters, with perhaps only the brightest fireballs visible during the early morning hours.
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 ..."
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in March 2017.