April Constellations With Star Chart
Now that it’s officially spring, it’s time to focus on the major constellations visible in the northern hemisphere. This April, I want to highlight a very prominent and recognizable constellation – Ursa Major. Ursa Major is also known as The Great Bear. As you can see in the above star chart, Ursa Major will appear nearly overhead toward the northeast around 10pm, EST in early April.
Within Ursa Major, you will find the famous grouping of stars known as The Big Dipper. So if you know how to spot the Big Dipper, you know how to find Ursa Major – The Great Bear! The names of the stars that make up the Big Dipper are Dubhe, Merak, Phecda, Megrez, Alioth, Mizar, Alcor, and Alkaid.
Not only is Ursa Major home to The Big Dipper, there are also several Messier Objects nearby. Near the “handle” of the Big Dipper you’ll find M51 and M101. M51 is the famous Whirlpool Galaxy. It’s a classic spiral galaxy and well worth a look, now that you can find it near the Big Dipper. M101 is a beautiful, delicate galaxy is known as the Pinwheel Galaxy. The Pinwheel Galaxy is about twice the size of our Milky Way Galaxy.
If you move over towards the “bowl” of the Big Dipper, you will find three Messier Objects all known as the M81 Group. They are M81, M82 and NGC 3077. M81 is also known as Bode’s Galaxy and is a spiral galaxy that’s only about 12 million light years away (that’s close on a galactic scale!). M81 is a good one to observe because you can easily find it because of it’s location close to the Big Dipper and it is relatively bright. M82 is close to M81 and it is known as the Cigar Galaxy. NGC 3077 looks like an elliptical galaxy, but it seems to have blurred edges most likely due to gravitational tidal forces resulting from it’s proximity to M81 and M82.
There is a lot going on in Ursa Major and it’s worth taking a look at during the month of April.