The sky, April 5-14: Get ready for the Solar Eclipse on April 8

Special to, April 6, 2024

Excerpts from weekly Sky&Telescope report.


■ Shortly after nightfall around this time of year, Arcturus, the bright Spring Star climbing in the east, stands just as high as Sirius, the brighter Winter Star descending in the southwest (for skywatchers at mid-northern latitudes).

These are the two brightest stars in the sky at the time. But Capella is a very close runner-up to Arcturus! Spot it high in the northwest.

Jupiter under the Pleiades and Aldebaran at dusk, April 5, 2024.

Mercury has faded and set. Watch the Pleiades settle a little closer to Jupiter until they both become lost in twilight late this month.


■ More Sirius doings: The two Dog Stars stand vertically aligned around the end of twilight. Sirius in Canis Major is the bottom one, and Procyon in Canis Minor is about two fists above it.


■ High above the Big Dipper late these evenings, nearly crossing the zenith, are three pairs of dim naked-eye stars, all 3rd or 4th magnitude, marking the Great Bear’s feet. They’re also known as the Three Springs (or Leaps) of the Gazelle, from early Arab lore. They form an east-west line that lies roughly midway between the bowl of the Big Dipper and the Sickle of Leo. The line is 30° (three fists) long.

Another version sees Coma Berenices as Leo’s extended tailtip and the pond as formed by stars in Ursa Major. For more of the legend see Steve O’Meara “Springs of the Gazelle” in the April Sky & Telescope, page 45.


■ New Moon, and oh by the way, the result this time is an eclipse of the Sun in case you hadn’t heard.

Where and when to view the eclipse

■ After the recovered Sun sets a few hours later, looking all innocent like nothing happened, and twilight fades and the stars come out, you’ll find Orion still well up in the southwest in his spring orientation: striding down to the right, with his belt horizontal. The belt points left toward Sirius and right toward Aldebaran and, farther on, the Pleiades 0ver Jupiter.


■ This is the time of year when the dim Little Dipper juts to the right from Polaris (the Little Dipper’s handle-end) during late evening. With the Moon gone from the evening sky, the subtle Little Dipper stands out about as well as it ever does.

The much brighter Big Dipper curls over high above it, “dumping water” into it.

■ Vega, the bright “Summer Star,” rises in the northeast these evenings. How early or late depends on your latitude and on your longitude within your time zone.

Exactly where should you watch for it to come up? Spot the Big Dipper almost overhead in the northeast. Look at Mizar at the bend of its handle. If you can see Mizar’s tiny, close companion Alcor (binoculars show it easily), follow a line from Mizar through Alcor all the way down to the horizon. That’s where Vega makes its appearance.


■ Having moved well east of our line of sight to the Sun, the Moon now appears as a thin crescent in evening twilight, hanging about 4° upper right of Jupiter.

■ After full dark, Castor and Pollux shine together west of the zenith. Pollux is slightly the brighter of these “twins.”


■ Now the Moon hangs about 6° over the Pleiades during and after dusk. Think photo opportunity. Brace your camera on something, and zoom in.


■ Arcturus shines brightly in the east these evenings. The Big Dipper, high in the northeast, points its curving handle lower-right down toward it.


■ The Moon, less than a day from first quarter, hangs under Castor and Pollux this evening.

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