The stars of northern winter linger in the west — as celestial bears, a lion, and a snake climb in the east. Meanwhile, Jupiter and Venus sparkle overhead.
With full Moon (and a total lunar eclipse) coming early in the month, it won’t be long before that big bright orb is gone from the evening sky, letting you enjoy the stars of spring in relative darkness.
Use brilliant Venus, in the west after sunset, as a benchmark to find the delicate star cluster called the Pleiades, the bright star Capella (nearly overhead), and the reddish star Aldebaran in Taurus. To the left of Venus, you’ll run into a distinctive three-star belt of Orion, the Hunter, with Betelgeuse above and Rigel below. To the belt’s lower left is Sirius, the brightest star in the nighttime sky.
Right now Sirius is outshone by both Venus and Jupiter, which is high up in the south as darkness falls. To Jupiter's left are the stars of Leo, the Lion.
Look high in the north, where the Big Dipper is positioned with its bowl at upper left and its handle curving toward lower right. The Big Dipper is what astronomers call an asterism, an obvious group of stars. (Orion's belt is an asterism too.)
But the Big Dipper is part of a constellation, Ursa Major, Latin for the Big Bear. And nearby is the Little Dipper in Ursa Minor, the Little Bear. Slithering up in the southeast is long, winding Hydra, the Sea Serpent. Hydra was quite carnivorous in Homer’s Odyssey. Spring is coming, and all these sky critters are on the march!
There's lots more to see by eye in the April evening sky. To get a personally guided your, download our 8½-minute-long stargazing podcast below.
There's no better guide to what's going on in nighttime sky than the April issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.