April is the month of great change in the Yukon night sky.
It is a time when the constellation of Orion is no longer high in the sky all evening and Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, sets on the horizon early after dusk.
As for what else is happening in the sky this month, there is an abundance of celestial events for everyone to enjoy.
On April 8 as evening falls, locate the moon and you are in for a big surprise: in the same field of view lies the Pleiades Star Cluster. This makes an excellent photo opportunity and looks great in binoculars or a wide-field telescope.
If you were down south (like Ontario or Quebec) you would actually see the moon hide a few of the stars in the star cluster. It is also takes place in the early evening for a change.
Again the Moon and, this time, the planet Mars are making an impressive pairing in the night sky. On April 11 and in the early hours of April 12, the moon and Mars make another perfect photo opportunity. This celestial event will be easily seen with the unaided eye.
The Lyrid meteor shower, which takes place on April 21, will be a wash this year due to the interfering full moon.
As for planets in the Yukon Night Sky, you will find Saturn high in the eastern evening sky in the constellation of Leo presenting you with the best in planetary views. With the bright star, Regulus right close by, it makes for easy identification, a really excellent view and an interesting contrast between star and planet.
Mars, found in the west south-western sky, is still easily visible to the unaided eye in the constellation of Gemini. This little planet is dimming very quickly now so enjoy the view while you can.
It is also time for galaxy hunting and conditions are perfect. One of my favourite hunting grounds is the constellation of Coma Berenices and Canes Venatici. These constellations are found high overhead just south (or down) from the first star in the handle of the Big Dipper.
Though this region of space appears to be unoccupied to the unaided eye, looks can be deceiving. This area of night sky holds some of the most amazing objects you can see with a telescope.
The Blackeye Galaxy, found in the constellation of Coma Berenices, is where I always begin. This object is easily seen in an eight-inch telescope and there is a clearly visible dark dust lane, but other than that, there is not an abundance of detail.
Now, in a 14-inch telescope, the view changes dramatically as the spiral arms begin to reveal themselves.
When it comes to best views of spiral arms on a galaxy, I recommend the Sunflower Galaxy in the constellation of Canes Venatici. When using a 10-inch or larger telescope, the view is impressive, as the spiral arms take shape and you begin to see dark dust lanes. This galaxy is a mere 37 million light years distant.
While you are in the neighbourhood, you may want to take in the showpiece of northern galaxies, the Whirlpool Galaxy. Only six degrees (or a little more than a binocular field) away from the Sunflower Galaxy is where this cosmic jewel resides. In an eight-inch telescope, the spiral arms are easily seen; in a 14-inch telescope, the view is nothing short of awe inspiring with huge dust lanes and bright glowing regions.
Night Skies Highlights
April 5 New moon.
April 8 Moon and the Pleiades Star Cluster make a nice pairing in the night sky.
April 11 Mars and the crescent moon make a close passing around midnight.
April 12 First quarter moon.
April 14 Saturn, Regulus, (a bright star in the Constellation of Leo) and the moon are only seven degrees apart tonight.
April 20 Full moon.
April 21 Lyrid meteor shower takes place but with a full moon it will be a poor show.
April 28 Last quarter moon.