Friday, April 26
• Last-quarter Moon (exact at 6:18 p.m. EDT). The Moon rises very late tonight, around 3 a.m. daylight-saving time, in the center of the dim, boat-shape pattern of Capricornus. High above the Moon is Altair. The brightest "stars" far to the Moon's right or upper right are Saturn, then brighter Jupiter.
Saturday, April 27
• As night descends, look high in the west for Pollux and Castor lined up almost horizontally (depending on your latitude). These two stars, the heads of the Gemini twins, form the top of the enormous Arch of Spring. To their lower left is Procyon, the left end of the Arch. Farther to their lower right is the other end, formed by Menkalinan (Beta Aurigae) and then brilliant Capella. The whole thing sinks lower through the evening.
Modern skywatchers are not alone in seeing the Arch of Spring as one big asterism. Extend it down past Procyon to add Sirius, and you've got the Hawaiian Canoe-Bailer of Makali‘i.
Sunday, April 28
• As the last of twilight fades out, the dim Little Dipper extends to the right from Polaris. High above the Little Dipper's bowl (marked by Kochab, Polaris's equal in brightness), you'll find the bowl of the Big Dipper.
Monday, April 29
• Just after dark, the Sickle of Leo stands vertical high in the south. Its bottom star is Regulus, the brightest of Leo. In second place is yellow Algieba above it.
Leo himself is walking horizontally westward. The Sickle forms his front leg, chest, mane, and part of his head. Denebola, about two and a half fists at arm's length left of Regulus, is his tail-tip.
Tuesday, April 30
• Arcturus is the brightest star high in the east these evenings. Spica shines lower right of it by about three fists. To the right of Spica by half that distance is the distinctive four-star constellation of Corvus, the Crow of Spring.
Wednesday, May 1
• It's May now, but wintry Sirius still twinkles very low in the west-southwest at the end of twilight. It sets soon after. How much longer into the spring can you keep Sirius in view? In other words, what will be its date of "heliacal setting" as seen by you?
Thursday, May 2
• Summer is more than six weeks away, but the Summer Triangle is beginning to make its appearance in the east, one star after another. The first in view is Vega. It's already visible low in the northeast as twilight fades.
Next up is Deneb, lower left of Vega by two or three fists at arm's length. Deneb takes about an hour to appear after Vega does, depending on your latitude.
The third is Altair, which shows up far to their lower right around midnight.
Friday, May 3
• Three zero-magnitude stars shine after dark in May: Arcturus high in the southeast, Vega much lower in the northeast, and Capella in the northwest. They appear so bright because each is at least 60 times as luminous as the Sun, and because they're all relatively nearby: 37, 25, and 42 light-years from us, respectively.
Saturday, May 4
• Vega is the brightest star in the northeast late these evenings. Look 14° (about a fist and a half at arm's length) to Vega's upper left for Eltanin, the nose of Draco the Dragon. Closer above and upper left of Eltanin are the three fainter stars of Draco's stick-figure head, also called the Lozenge. Draco always points his nose to Vega no matter how we see them. He seems awfully curious about it. A jewel for dragon food?
The faintest star of Draco's head, opposite Eltanin, is 4th-magnitude Nu Draconis. It's a lovely, equal-brightness double star for binoculars and small scopes (separation 61 arcseconds).
• New Moon (exact at 6:46 p.m. EDT).
Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
This is an outdoor nature hobby. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy.
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The basic standard is the Pocket Sky Atlas (in either the original or Jumbo Edition), which shows stars to magnitude 7.6.
Next up is the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0, plotting stars to magnitude 8.5; nearly three times as many. The next up, once you know your way around, are the even larger Interstellarum atlas (stars to magnitude 9.5) and Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, or the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (meaning heavy and expensive). And as Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
The Venus-Mercury challenge gets even tougher! Venus (magnitude –3.9) and much fainter Mercury (about magnitude –0.3) are both very low in the brightening dawn. Pick up Venus just above the due-east horizon about 20 minutes before sunrise. Then use binoculars or a wide-field telescope to look for little Mercury a good 6° to 8° to its lower left. Good luck.
Mars (magnitude +1.6, in Taurus) glows in the west during and after dusk, lower every week now. Spot it about 20° to the right of brighter, Mars-colored Betelgeuse – the topmost bright star of departing Orion. In a telescope Mars is a hopeless little blur-blob (4½ across); it's almost as far from Earth as it ever gets.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.4, at the eastern foot of Ophiuchus) rises in the southeast around 11 or midnight daylight-saving time. It shines highest in the south before dawn begins, so that's the best time to observe it telescopically. Jupiter has grown to a good 43 arcseconds wide (equatorial diameter) as it creeps toward its June 10th opposition. See Richard Jakiel's Jupiter observing guide in the May Sky & Telescope, page 52.
Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in Sagittarius) rises around 1 a.m. As dawn begins, it's the "star" 27° (almost three fists at arm's length) to Jupiter's left.
Uranus is hidden in conjunction with the Sun.
Neptune is still deep in the glow of sunrise.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America.
Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) is Universal Time (UT, UTC, GMT, or Z time) minus 4 hours.
Audio sky tour. Out under the evening sky with your earbuds in place, listen to Kelly Beatty's monthly podcast tour of the heavens above. It's free.
"We may be little guys, but we don’t think small. It’s the courage of questions, of grasping our true circumstances, and not pretending we are at the center of it all, that is adulthood."
– Ann Druyan, 2014