This Week's Night Sky: Glimpse the Sombrero Galaxy

As last week's meteor shower tails off, you can spot the hat-shaped galaxy and, in a sky-watching challenge, see the Pleiades pair with Mercury.

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The Sombrero galaxy, imaged here by the Hubble Space Telescope, is one of the brightest and most famous galaxies visible through backyard telescopes. The galaxy's hallmark is a brilliant white core encircled by thick dust lanes.

The moon makes some pretty pairings this week and provides a guide to a galaxy named for a Mexican hat.

Lyrids and Aquarids. Sky-watchers can expect a sprinkling of shooting stars from the Lyrid meteor shower after nightfall on Monday, April 27. The meteor shower peaked last week, but there should be about a half-dozen meteors per hour still visible during next few nights.

The next meteor shower, the Eta Aquarids, begins to ramp up this week and will peak on May 6, when as many as five to 10 shooting stars per hour should be visible in the pre-dawn hours from a dark locale.

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The moon joins the bright white star Regulus and brilliant planet Jupiter in the constellation  Leo, the lion, on April 27.

Moon and a lion’s heart. Also on Monday evening, look towards the southwest sky for the waxing gibbous moon hanging just below the bright star Regulus. Marking the heart of the constellation Leo, the lion, the 79-light-year-distant star appears to lie only 4 degrees from the moon, making this brilliant pair a pretty sky event.

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Here's where to find Mercury pairing up with the Pleiades star cluster at dusk on Friday.

Mercury joins a star cluster. Half an hour after sunset on Friday, May 1, sky-watchers using binoculars can scan the low western sky for star-like Mercury and the open star cluster Pleiades.  

The 300-light-year-distant stellar grouping will be a particular challenge to hunt down in the glare of dusk, so use binoculars. About 45 minutes after sunset, the cosmic duo will be only 10 degrees above the horizon. Look for the cluster a mere 2 degrees (equal to about four lunar disks) to the right of our solar system’s innermost planet.

Mercury should be fairly easily to spot with the naked eye, and through a small telescope it will appear half illuminated, looking similar to a quarter moon. By next week, the planet will reach its best evening appearance for 2015.

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This finder chart shows the Sombrero galaxy almost exactly halfway between the moon and Gienah, the brightest star in the Crow constellation, on Friday night.

Sombrero galaxy. Later on Friday night, look for the moon in the southern sky and use it as a guidepost to hunt down a stunning galaxy.  

Messier 104, also known as the Sombrero galaxy, is a dramatic-looking telescope object with a distinctive dark dust lane that cuts right across its bright core, giving it a strong resemblance to its namesake.

Shining at magnitude 9, the Sombrero is one of the brightest and best-known galaxies visible through backyard telescopes. It sits about 28 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo.  

Tonight you can find it by drawing an imaginary line between the moon and the bright 165-light-year-distant star Gienah, the brightest star in the constellation Corvus, the crow. Using binoculars or a small telescope, scan halfway along this line until you find a faint, fuzzy oval patch: the Sombrero galaxy.

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Look for the nearly full moon to pair up with Spica, the brightest star of Virgo, the maiden, on Saturday night.

Maiden and moon. By the evening of Saturday, May 2, look for the moon to have slipped closer to the southeastern horizon, where it will appear next to the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, the maiden.

Spica and the moon will appear less than 4 degrees apart, about  the width of your three middle fingers held at arm’s length.

Happy hunting!

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