The Sky This Week from April 22 to 29


Friday, April 22

The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight. Its radiant, located near bright Vega in Lyra the Lyre, rises around 8 P.M. local time. For the best nighttime viewing of the shower, you’ll want to let that radiant get as high as possible, so wait until late this evening before stepping outside to watch for shooting stars.

Unfortunately, the radiant won’t get very high before midnight; if you’re willing to stay out into the early hours of tomorrow morning or alternatively get up a few hours before the Sun on the 23rd, your prospects will be a bit better. Early morning is always best to view meteor showers, as that’s when Earth’s rotation results in faster-moving shower meteors with longer trails. Lyrid meteors typically move through our atmosphere at speeds of about 30 miles (50 kilometers) per second — not particularly fast, as far as meteors go.

The Moon won’t interfere with your viewing late this evening, bumping up your chances of spotting more meteors. However, the Lyrids’ maximum rate at peak is only about 18 meteors per hour — and that number will be lower in reality, as the radiant will not sit directly overhead.

Sunrise: 6:12 A.M.
Sunset: 7:46 P.M.
Moonrise: 1:52 A.M.
Moonset: 10:55 A.M.
Moon Phase: Waning gibbous (59%)
*Times for sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset are given in local time from 40° N 90° W. The Moon’s illumination is given at 12 P.M. local time from the same location.

Saturday, April 23

Last Quarter Moon occurs at 7:56 A.M. EDT. This lunar phase is characterized by early-morning rise times, meaning nighttime is now the perfect setting to view fainter, deep-sky objects.

Today, though, your evening target is a bright magnitude –0.4: the planet Mercury. This month brings us the tiny planet’s best evening apparition of 2022, and it will reach greatest elongation from the Sun in just a few days. But first, tonight offers a unique chance to step back through time and view mercury as Giovanni Schiaparelli saw it 140 years ago.

Schiaparelli began studying Mercury in 1882 and immediately saw what he believed was a giant figure 5 feature on the planet’s dark surface. Today, Mercury presents to us a nearly identical view to what Schiaparelli saw in early 1882.

Start by locating Mercury, which stands nearly 20° above the western horizon at sunset. It’s the first bright spot that will appear after sunset, making it easy to find. The planet sets around 9:30 P.M. local time and the best views will come earlier rather than later, as twilight is fading and Mercury is higher above the turbulent air at the horizon.

Zoom in on Mercury with any telescope and you’ll see the planet’s 6.8″-wide disk is 56 percent lit, as compared to the 7.0″-wide, 53-percent-lit planet Schiaparelli saw on Feb. 6, 1882. The longitude of Mercury’s central meridian tonight is 85°, compared with 86° in 1882. And if you have a larger telescope (6 to 10 inches), a look through the eyepiece will transport you squarely into Schiaparelli’s shoes, offering the same level of detail. Do you see the dark figure 5, or the bright spot of the crater Kuiper, which sits near the limb, just left of the 5?

Sunrise: 6:10 A.M.
Sunset: 7:47 P.M.
Moonrise: 2:43 A.M.
Moonset: 12:06 P.M.
Moon Phase: Waning crescent (48%)

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