April 8, 2016
Go stargazing! Below is a colorful sky map for April 2016 to help you navigate the night sky. Note there is a free printable sky map offered at the top of this page, too.
Watch the night sky from your backyard or plan a drive in the countryside away from bright light. Pack some snacks, chairs, and binoculars if you have them!
Sky Map for April 2016
This sky map was created by Jeff DeTray. Each month, we highlight what’s happening—bright stars, constellations, planets, conjunctions with the Moon, meteor showers, and other amazing celestial objects. Follow more of Jeff’s sky adventures at AstronomyBoy.com.
Click-and-Print Sky Map
Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!
Sky Map Highlights: April 2016
Chasing the Moon
The Moon is so obvious and so easy to see that we are tempted to take it for granted. But the Moon is really a remarkable object. It is ever so familiar but beautifully different every night. No other celestial sight changes its location or apparent shape so quickly. With spring weather bringing warmer temperatures, get outside on April evenings to follow the changing Moon as it sprints through the southern sky.
This month’s sky map shows the Moon’s position and shape (or phase) at 10:00 p.m. local time for 10 consecutive nights from April 12 to April 21. The green line traces its path through the stars.
- On April 12, the crescent-shape Moon is located near the feet of Castor and Pollux, the Gemini Twins. These are depicted as two stick figures holding hands in the stars of Gemini. The twins are named Castor and Pollux, and the two brightest stars in Gemini carry these names as well.
- On the night of April 13, the Moon is still in Gemini but is now above the bright star Procyon in Canis Minor the Lesser Dog. Procyon is the eighth brightest of all stars.
- On April 14 and 15, the Moon passes through the dim constellation Cancer the Crab. By now, the Moon has reached its first quarter phase where it is half illuminated from our Earthly perspective. The most notable landmark in this part of the sky is the head of Hydra the Water Snake. Hydra is a very long, sinuous, constellation whose body twists and turns downward and to the left. Hydra’s lone bright star is Alphard, “the solitary one.” Indeed, Alphard sits by itself in bit of sky otherwise void of bright lights.
- The Moon moves into much brighter company on April 16 and 17. It first passes just below Regulus, the heart of Leo the Lion. Regulus is the 21st brightest star in the sky; occasionally, the Moon actually passes in front of Regulus, completely hiding it from view for a time. This month, it’s a near miss.
- On the very next night, April 17, the Moon passes close to the planet Jupiter. The King of Planets is noticeably brighter than Regulus, but that’s not the only difference you’ll notice. Whereas Regulus appears to twinkle, as any self-respecting star should, Jupiter shines with a steadier light.
- By now, the Moon is more than half illuminated but is not yet full. This is its gibbous phase, which lasts about a week. The illuminated portion grows each day, and we refer to this period of growth as the waxing gibbous Moon.
- The Moon now moves away from Leo and into the constellation Virgo the Virgin, where it spends the next several nights. On April 20, the Moon is directly above Spica, the brightest star in Virgo and the 16th brightest star.
- On the next night, April 21, the Moon is still in Virgo and is nearly full; that is, the part of the Moon that we can see is now fully illuminated.
In just 10 nights, the Moon has moved a third of the way across the sky and changed from a crescent into a blazing full Moon. This celestial transformation repeats itself month after month, year after year. Cavemen watched it happen. So did the ancient Egyptians. William Shakespeare wrote about the ever-changing “inconstant” Moon. Perhaps most amazing of all, explorers from Earth actually visited the Moon within the past 50 years. Take a few moments this month and do what people have done for millennia. –
April 2016 Sky Map
Click here or on image below to enlarge (PDF)
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
Why Stars Twinkle
Stars twinkle because they are so far away that they appear to us as pinpoints, and our view of them is influenced by turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere that bends starlight ever so slightly. We see this bending as twinkling. Planets are close enough that they appear not as pinpoints but as small discs. Atmospheric turbulence has less effect on their appearance.
See our Sky Watch page for more highlights of the monthly sky, courtesy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.