What’s new in the sky?
Wonders of the universe from your doorstep
Whether you’re a keen stargazer, or have never given astronomy a go, there has never been a better time to step into your garden or peer out of your window, and gaze up into the beautiful night sky. With rumours of Venus being at its biggest and brightest, meteor showers lighting up the heavens, a supermoon, and visible flyovers of the International Space Station, there’s plenty to see! Here’s the low-down from Dr Julian Onions, Post-doctoral Researcher at our School of Physics and Astronomy, for his astronomical forecast.
Venus on Tuesday 28 April
Venus is putting on a fantastic show this month, and is visible easily from twilight onwards in the West. Look in that direction and it will be obvious. It is the brightest thing around there, reasonably high up and slowly sinking to set at about midnight.
Venus would be a horrible place to visit. It is perpetually covered in clouds, even worse than here in the UK! The atmosphere is so thick, it would crush you as though you were a kilometre deep in an ocean. If you managed to escape being crushed, you’d be out of the frying pan and into the fire, because the surface is about 450˚C. To add a final insult, it rains acid there!
Venus will be its brightest on Tuesday 28 April, so step outside and view from a safe distance.
Lyrid meteor shower 16-30 April
The Lyrids will peak on Tuesday 21 April. It is a medium shower, and best seen from dark skies. The comet Thatcher (C/1861 - discovered by A.E. Thatcher in 1861) is the reason for the Lyrids. We are passing through its tail yearly.
Flower Moon on Thursday 7 May
Keep your eyes to the skies on Thursday 7 May, because the third supermoon of 2020 will be arriving. The Flower Moon is a full moon named after the spring blossoms of May. In astro terms, it happens to be particularly close to Earth – 359655km away – which makes it look 7% larger on average. If you ordered a super pizza and it arrived 7% bigger you probably wouldn't think it was that spectacular. However, if you observe the Moon soon after it rises (around 9pm – but give it a while to get above the horizon), it will look much bigger, thanks to an optical illusion. The reason for the Moon’s supersized appearance is because it looks a lot larger to us when it’s close to the horizon.
- The term ‘supermoon’ is certainly fitting for a moon that looks larger than usual, but it was actually coined by an astrologer and bears no astronomical significance
- Astronomers estimate that the Moon is 4.6 billion years old
- Gravity on the Moon is only 1/6 of that on Earth
- It would take 135 days to drive by car to the Moon at 70mph, when the moon is at its closest to Earth (360010km away)
- Temperatures on the moon are extreme. They range from boiling hot to freezing cold depending on where the sun is shining.
- The Moon is not round, but an egg-shaped spheroid, with the large end pointed towards Earth.
- The Moon has "moonquakes" caused by Earth’s gravitational pull.
International Space Station flyover – mid-May
We have also seen the International Space Station passing overhead recently. It will be visible again around mid-May in the evening. Visit NASA’s Spot the Station website to pinpoint exactly what time it will be flying over you.