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Sky Guides: Stargazing, weather and more!

For the month of April

Spring Sky Map © Wil Tirion

April Constellations

Say goodbye to Orion and the stars of winter, as they appear on April evenings low over the northwestern horizon. Rigel, the brilliant blue-white star marking Orion's knee, has just set at ten pm (daylight saving time). Taurus is very low in the northwest. Capella, the bright star in the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer, is north of Taurus's orange star Aldebaran.

The Big Dipper, an asterism or star shape within the larger constellation Ursa Major, is very high in the northeastern part of the sky. Its pointer stars, along the edge of the dipper's bowl, point to Polaris, the North Star, at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper, also known as the constellation Ursa Minor. In the other direction, the pointers point to Leo the Lion, in the south. The star Denebola marks Leo's tail, and Regulus his head.

The Big Dipper's curved handle "arcs to Arcturus," the orange giant star in the constellation Bootes, the Herdsman. Continue the arc past Arcturus to "speed to Spica," the bright alpha star in Virgo, to the southeast. To the right of Spica are the four faint but noticeable stars of Corvus, the Crow. Between Leo and Virgo lies the constellation Cancer, the Crab. Despite being the least conspicuous constellation of the zodiac, Cancer offers a treat to springtime stargazers: the Praesepe or Beehive star cluster.

Below and to the left of Arcturus is the semicircular constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Farther in the same direction is the butterfly or H-shape of Hercules. Just rising above the northeastern horizon is the sparkling white star Vega, in the constellation Lyra. When you see this first of the summer stars you know that warm weather is on its way.

Sirius, the Dog Star and the brightest star in the sky, is very low above the southwestern horizon now. Procyon, the Little Dog Star, is above it, about halfway up the sky, and Castor and Pollux, the twin stars of Virgo, are higher still. Faint constellations fill in the rest of the southwestern sky.