The ancient constellations of Leo and Virgo dominate the springtime skies. Leo does indeed look like a recumbent lion; but it’s hard to envisage Virgo as anything other than a vast ‘Y’ in the sky!
This year, the rather dull constellation Virgo sports a brilliant jewel. It’s the planet Saturn, closest to the Earth this month – ‘close’, however, is relative: the ringworld is over a billion kilometres distant! Shining at magnitude +0.3, Saturn is at opposition on 28 April and is visible all night long. Grab the chance to look through a small telescope, if you can, to see its glorious rings and its biggest moon, cloud-shrouded Titan.
Early in the evening, Jupiter is still king of the western sky. At magnitude –1.9 in Taurus, it is setting in the west around midnight. On 14 April, we are treated to the lovely sight of Jupiter close up and personal to the crescent Moon, with Aldebaran and the Hyades lying below.
If you have a clear horizon and a good pair of binoculars, look to the north-west just after sunset to try to glimpse Comet PanSTARRS. It passes the Andromeda Galaxy early in April, and then moves upwards into Cassiopeia.
It’s the maximum of the Lyrid meteor shower on the night of 21/22 April. These shooting stars appear to emanate from the constellation of Lyra, and consist of dust particles from comet Thatcher. Unfortunately, the display is spoilt by bright moonlight this year.
On 25 April, we’re treated to the best eclipse visible from the UK in 2013, when the Full Moon is right next to Saturn. This partial lunar eclipse reaches its maximum at 9.08 pm, when you’ll see a tiny nick taken out of the Moon’s top edge. In fact, only 1 per cent of the Moon is covered by the Earth’s shadow – which shows just what an appalling year this is for eclipses!