Lyrid Meteors – April showers bring May flowers

This week we have the Lyrid Meteor Shower and nice view of Venus and a crescent Moon on Sunday morning..  While the meteor shower may not bring flowers, it is a nice event to check out.  Here is your guide to the sky for April 17 to 23, 2017…

Sun – Earth – Moon

Sunrise this week is at 5:44 am and sunset at 7:26 pm as our days lengthen and the increased sunlight signals time for planning spring gardens and flowers. Last Quarter Moon takes place on Wednesday at 5:57 am and on this day back in 1967 Surveyor 3 landed on the Moon.

Planets in the Sky and in the News!

Mercury is lost in the glare of the Sun this week as it is in inferior conjunction on Thursday.  Mars has crossed into Taurus and it is worth comparing it to red Aldebaran.  It sets just before 10:00 pm this week.    Jupiter is in the eastern sky at sunset and 2 degrees from the Moon on Monday evening.  While Saturn rises in the eastern sky just after midnight this week.  Venus is our morning star rising at 4:30 am and is 5 degrees from a waning crescent Moon on Sunday, April 23.

Of course the big news this week was NASA’s announcement regarding the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. NASA just made a major announcement this past week providing new details about icy, ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Using Cassini and the Hubble Space Telescope they determined that a form of chemical energy that life can feed on appears to exist on Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa. Finding indicates hydrogen gas, which could potentially provide a chemical energy source for life exists on the subsurface ocean of Enceladus. This could be a potential that microbes – if any exist there – could use it to obtain energy by combining the hydrogen with carbon dioxide dissolved in the water to produces methane as a byproduct. Methane is thought to have been critical to the origin of life on our planet. The Cassini spacecraft detected the hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy material spraying from Enceladus.  At the same time the Hubble Space Telescope reported on observations of Europa which a plume of material was seen erupting from the moon’s surface could be evidence of water erupting from the moon’s interior in a similar fashion.  Both of these worlds will be targets for future NASA missions.  While they do not show evidence of life, the conditions needed seem to be present, bringing us one step closer in our quest to find life beyond Earth!  Check out this video from NASA about ocean worlds.

Star chart courtesy of

Lyrid Meteor Shower – Look in the predawn sky on Saturday

Lyra the Harp rises around 9:45 pm in the eastern sky this week and is the radiant point (place where meteors emanate from) for the Lyrid metor shower. While the meteors of this shower often lack persistent trains or streaks, it is known for producing occasional bright fireballs. You can expect 10-20 meteors per hour which is a result of debris from comet Thatcher.  While the best time to look will be before dawn on Saturday, you might catch a few on Friday evening after 11:00 pm.  The Moon is waning, so it will not interfere with this shower.

Check out the meteors or the morning gathering of the Moon and Venus, or wonder about the ocean moons as you view Jupiter and Saturn this week.  Spring skies are bountiful with wondrous sites. Happy stargazing and keep your eye on the sky!



Shawn Laatsch

About Shawn Laatsch

Shawn Laatsch is the director of the Emera Astronomy Center and Jordan Planetarium at the University of Maine. He started his astronomy education career in 1984 and has directed planetariums in university and science center facilities, taught undergraduate astronomy courses, and given numerous lectures around the globe. He serves as President (2017 & 2018) of the International Planetarium Society, Inc. the world’s largest organization of planetarium professionals. Shawn has a passion for sharing astronomy and stargazing with people of all ages.