Welcome to the April night sky. Soon after darkness falls – if the sky is not too cloudy – a brilliant star-like object will be seen high in the west. This is the planet Venus and, through a small telescope or powerful binoculars, the planet will be seen in its crescent phase; that is to say it will appear like a small crescent Moon with its illuminated side facing the Sun.
April has many meteor showers with a high percentage of fireballs or exceptionally bright falling stars.
These objects are not associated with any known periodic showers, so their origins are a mystery. Quite often these meteors survive their fall through our dense atmosphere and hit the ground as meteorites.
Most meteors seen in the night sky are of cometary origin as in the Lyrid shower on the night of the 22nd that comes from comet Thatcher. It is seen since 687BC although with every year that passes this shower becomes weaker.
In April, on Friday the 13th 2029, the asteroid Apophis passes close to the Earth. In fact, closer than some of Earth’s orbiting communication satellites. This lump of rock is about 370 metres across and travelling at 31kms per second with enough kinetic energy to destroy a large city.
Fortunately, there is hardly any chance that it will impact us. But, in 2036, also in April, Apophis will be back and any minor alterations of this object’s orbit in the intervening years will increase the risk of an impact.
Close monitoring of its orbit will keep us informed of the risk factor and, hopefully, if the risk is high, we can do something about it. There are many risks that mankind has to confront, and cosmic impact is real and unavoidable at the moment.
Pandemics can kill millions, but cosmic impacts can kill billions in an instant and put us back to the Stone Age. Our only defence is our technology, otherwise nature could wipe us out like the dinosaurs that ruled the planet for 100 million years.
The full Moon of 8th is another Supermoon with the associated slightly higher sea tides and the Moon will be about 15% brighter than average.
The Moon is at first quarter on the 1st, full on the 8th, last quarter on the 14th, new on the 23rd and first quarter again on April 30.
| [email protected]
Clive Jackson is the Director of the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.
281 322 527 | [email protected] www.torredetavira.com
To see the April Sky Map click on the pdf link below