Now that the clocks have gone forward, our minds turn to thoughts of long, warm days and shorter nights – which means more daylight to get out to have more outdoor adventures.
However, this doesn’t mean that your astronomy observations have to suffer. In fact, spring is one of the best times of years to observe the skies as there are enough hours of darkness with the added bonus of being able to wear (slightly) fewer layers.
Many might not associate England with star-gazing, but there are actually some great places in rural England, particularly in the north, which offer dark skies suitable for staring at constellations.
Read on to find out what kinds of stars, planets, and meteor showers to look out for this April and May, as well as meet the astronomer, Dr Sheona Urquhart.
So, what does April hold for us in terms of stargazing? Plenty! As is often the case, a good place to start stargazing is to find the easily-identifiable constellation known as the Plough. Locate this, and you can find Polaris, which will help to align you – when you are looking at this star, you are looking north. Another classic constellation that most of us are familiar with is Orion which can be seen if you look due south – easy to find once you have located north.
Whilst you are looking south, keep an eye for the Beehive Cluster (M44, Praesepe). This is an open star cluster, roughly 520 lightyears away in the Cancer constellation. As one of the closest to the Solar System, this star cluster is one of the most dramatic to observe this spring, as it will appear as about 60 stars and will be readily observable through a pair of binoculars.
If planets are your thing, look west in the evening to see Mercury and Venus towards in late April and into May. Or perhaps you prefer to be up nice and early? If so, cast your eyes towards the southeast around the 6-7th April and you may be lucky enough to see Jupiter with Saturn appearing fainter to the right. What better way to start the day than to step out into the wilderness in the darkest parts of the country to see such a beautiful sight? Picture clear skies, with nothing but the sounds of the wilds and a view of astronomical bodies-bliss.
Of particular note is the Lyrid meteor shower which will occur around the 22nd-23rd April. This meteor shower is associated with the Comet C/1861 Thatcher. These meteors are not new to the scene – in fact, the first sighting of the shower was first spotted as far back as 687 BC! The meteors should (weather permitting of course) be clearly visible over the whole sky, producing roughly 10-15 meteors per hour, but they will appear to come from the constellation called Lyra, containing the star Vega. It should be an impressive sight and ideal for some astrophotography.
Of course, there are many other objects for you to observe, so grab your binoculars and camera, get yourself a planetsphere (if you’re feeling traditional like me!) or for those of you embracing technology, download a star chart/observing app and get out there.
If this has piqued your interest and you want to learn more about these fascinating events
and astronomical bodies, why not include an astronomy experience on your next trip to rural England? Not only will you learn all about the night skies but you’ll also be able to ask all of your burning questions – perhaps add a whole new dimension to your adventure! Learn more below.
Learn all about the night sky from professional astrophysicist Dr Sheona Urquhart. Available to book onto private and tailormade trips, elevate your evening by having an expert join you for the night. In the winter, head out on a wander and have her show and explain all the marvels you can admire on a clear night.
Even with the lighter skies of summer, there is still much to see and talk about. What could be better than an after-dinner talk on the origins of the universe? Or maybe the space race, the search for extraterrestrial life, a topic of your choice? Learn all about fantastical things such as black holes and what spaghettification actually is – and yes, it’s a thing!
Dr Sheona Urquhart is an elected member to the council of the Royal Astronomical Society and regularly speaks about astronomy at national and international astrophysics conferences, as well as to the public in schools and at local astronomical societies. She currently works at the Open University and through this, does a great deal of work with the BBC as a consultant.