Night sky highlights - April 2017

This month you'll be able to catch Venus in the morning sky pre-sunrise in the east now that it has crossed in front of the Sun.

(Details given are for London and may vary for other parts of the UK).

1 April - the Moon is in its waxing crescent phase and will build towards a full moon over the next ten days. On this evening it can be seen in the constellation of Gemini, just above the prominent constellation of Orion which is beginning to disappear for the summer only to return later in the year.

11 April - look out for Jupiter rising in the south-east after sunset. Located in the constellation of Virgo, it sits just above Spica – the constellation’s brightest star. First find the famous star pattern known as The Plough or Big Dipper, which is shaped like a saucepan. Follow the curved handle of the pan, take a pit-stop at a bright red star called Arcturus, and then continue onwards to Jupiter and Spica. The full moon sidles up to this duo tonight.

On this night, Jupiter also makes its closest approach to Earth - a point astronomers call ‘opposition’. As a result it will be directly illuminated by the Sun and is primed for viewing with a telescope. Those with medium sized telescopes should be able to make out its famous Great Red Spot, a spectacle that might not be around for much longer – astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered that it is shrinking.

22-23 April - the annual Lyrids meteor shower will reach its peak - it gets its name because the shooting stars appear to radiate across the sky from a point in the constellation of Lyra. Scan your eyes wide across the Eastern sky from a dark site and you should spot a meteor every 3 or 4 minutes. Despite their name, shooting stars are not stars at all. Instead they are tiny cosmic dust grains glowing as they tear through our atmosphere. These particular dust trails come from Comet Thatcher, which deposited them in the path of the Earth’s orbit as it blazes around the solar system.

Get prepared for stargazing

When looking at faint objects such as stars, nebulae, the Milky Way and other galaxies it is important to allow your eyes to adapt to the dark – so that you achieve night vision. Allow 15 minutes for your eyes to become sensitive in the dark and remember not to look at your mobile phone or any other bright device when stargazing. If you are using a star app on your phone switch on the red night vision mode.

Need a stargazing telescope or a decent pair of binoculars? Check out our range of high-quality observing equipment recommended by Royal Observatory astronomers:

See our range of observing equipment

Share your astronomy pictures

Don't forget to share your pictures of the night sky with us on

Twitter @ROGAstronomer or via Facebook

Come and see some of the photographs entered into last year's Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition - the world's biggest astrophotography competition.

Visit the free Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition

See more of the night sky

Come on a fantastic tour of this month's night sky in our Sky Tonight live planetarium show.

See the Sky Tonight planetarium show