April 2017

• March 31st, 2017

WATCH this on YouTube

         Welcome to Observing With Webb, where the armchair astronomer figures out what they’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what they should check out next.  Don’t forget to check out my Podbean page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter feed.

All five naked eye planets are visible at some point in April, temperatures get warmer, and the Lyrid Meteor Shower might put on a display.

 

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset – Mercury (W – first week), Mars (W)

Planets you can see throughout the night – Jupiter (EàW)

Planets you can see in the Morning – Jupiter (W), Saturn (S), Venus (E) Mercury (E – last week)

 

Mercury – If you’re out for the first week of April around sunset, you can catch Mercury’s best apparition of the year. Look West and find the bright point less than 15˚ above the horizon.  Each day it gets lower, is not visible for the next two weeks, and then reappears very low in the sunrise sky before 6:05am if you’re good.

Venus – Just barely visible above the horizon at the beginning of the month, Venus gets higher and higher each morning, until it’s almost 20˚ above the horizon at the end of April.  Look East before sunrise.  Use binoculars to see its crescent shape: large and thin on the 1st, smaller but thicker on the 30th.

Mars – Look W after sunset and Mars will be the ruddy red object south of Taurus in the beginning of the month, and in between Taurus and the Pleiades at the end of the month.

Saturn – Rises around 1am in the SE.  Look S in the mornings before sunrise.  It will only be about 25˚ above the horizon, much brighter than anything else around it, above Sagittarius.

Jupiter – Great month for it, as it reaches opposition on the 7th, where you can see it from sunset to sunrise.  If you’re looking for Jupiter before going to bed, it rises in the East 45 minutes after sunset (7:30pm) at the beginning of the month and is already 30˚ up in the SE at sunset by the end of the month.  Just look for the very bright object in the SE after sunset.  If you’re staying up late, Jupiter will be in the South at midnight, and in the WSW around sunrise, always hanging out around Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. 

 

EVENTS...

First Quarter Moon – 3rd (Visible until midnight)

10thClose Encounter – Moon, Jupiter – Look E after sunset or SW before sunrise.  The Moon and Jupiter will be just 3˚apart.

Full Moon – 11th (Visible all night)

16th – 17thClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Look SE after 1am or South before sunrise (6:30am).  Saturn will be the very bright point 5˚ below and left of the waning gibbous Moon on the 16th and 7˚ to right of the Moon on the 17th

Last Quarter Moon – 19th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

22nd – LYRID METEOR SHOWER – Not the strongest shower, at only 10-20 meteors per hour, but the Moon will be a thick crescent, so natural light pollution won’t be an issue.  Look North in general after 11pm and into the morning. 

Some advice for watching:

    Find a dark location and lie down in a reclining chair or something that insulates you from the ground.

    Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear

    Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something. 

    If you’re feeling extra nerdy, do a scientific meteor count (S&T and IMO)

    Or find out if your local astronomy club or museum is holding a viewing party.

23rdClose Encounter – Moon, Venus – Get up before sunrise (6:15am) and find a very thin crescent Moon in the East with Venus 8˚ to the left.

New Moon – 26th (darkest skies)

27th – 28thClose Encounter – Moon, Mars – Sunset is right around 8pm. If you have a clear view of the western horizon, you should be able to catch a nice crescent Moon just 8˚below Mars on the 27th before 9pm, and 10˚ up and to the left of Mars on the 28th.

 

CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

After Sunset (sunset is around 7:30-8:00pm) – Cancer, Leo, Lynx, Ursa Major’s legs - Extra Challenge! Find M44 in the middle of Cancer – an open cluster of stars also known as the Beehive Cluster.  You may be able to see it as a small fuzzy patch with your naked eye if you have very dark skies.  However, with a pair of binoculars or a telescope on low power, it will look like a hive of bees in the distance, hence its nickname.

Between Sunset and Midnight – Leo, Leo Minor, Ursa Major’s legs

Midnight – Canes Venatici, Coma Berenices are closer to the Zenith (the point straight above you), but Ursa Major, Leo, and Bootes make a nice but bigger triangle around it.

Early Morning – Hercules, Lyra, Cygnus – These are the Summer constellations, and since they are starting to rise in the morning now, that means that summer is on its way.

GENERAL CONSTELLATION FINDING TIPS: 

Winter constellations:  LAST CHANCE FOR THE WINTER CONSTELLATIONS! Orion is still easy to spot as he is directly in the SW after sunset.  You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations, for the last time until the fall.

Using Orion:  Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion’s belt in the Southwest.  If you draw a line from the left star to the right star and keep going right about 20 degrees (about 2 fists at arm’s length) until you reach another very bright star, you will have reached the star Aldebaran in Taurus (the V).  Follow that line a little more (about another fist) and you’ll find the Pleiades.

If you start at his belt again, but instead go the opposite way and draw a line from the right star in Orion’s belt to the left star, and keep going left about 20 degrees (2 fists again), you’ll come to the brightest star in the sky – Sirius – part of Canis Major.

Above these three constellations are Gemini and Auriga.  The brightest stars in each of these constellations form a circle in the sky.  Going clockwise - Aldebaron (Taurus) – Rigel (Orion – bottom right foot) – Sirius (Canis Major) – Procyon (Canis Minor) – Castor & Pollux (Gemini) – Capella (Auriga).  It makes for great stargazing in the winter sky.

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.

 

 

 

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March 2017

• March 2nd, 2017

To see a video of this information, go to my YouTube Channel

         Welcome to Observing With Webb, where the armchair astronomer figures out what they’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what they should check out next.  Don’t forget to check out my Podbean page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter feed.

March is an interesting month, providing a look at all 5 naked-eye planets, Venus switching to the morning, and an occultation of Aldebaran.

 

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset – Venus (W & E), Mars (SW)

Planets you can see throughout the night – Jupiter (EàSW)

Planets you can see in the Morning – Jupiter (SW), Saturn (SE)

 

Mercury – Mercury becomes visible around mid-March, rising in the sunset sky in the west. On the 18th, Venus and Mercury will be closest and will be about 8˚ away from each other, each about the same distance above the horizon.  Each day after, Mercury gets easier to see, though not easy, as it is higher each day of March.

Venus – Venus undergoes a switcheroo this month, by diving lower and lower in the western sunset sky each night, until around the 16th when it gets pretty much too low to see.  If you’re up for a little challenge, though, try finding Venus just within half an hour of sunset, then get up the next morning and look East to find Venus rising just 30 minutes before sunrise. After that, Venus will continue to rise higher each morning, and stay a “morning star” for pretty much the rest of 2017. If you have a telescope or binoculars, it will APPEAR as big as Jupiter this month, since it’s coming around the inside of its orbit, relative to Earth, and will be in its crescent phase and getting thinner all month.

Mars – Look W after sunset and Mars will be the ruddy red object in Pisces.

Saturn – Look SSE in the mornings before sunrise.  It will only be about 25˚ above the horizon, much brighter than anything else around it, above and between Sagittarius and Scorpius

Jupiter – If you’re looking for Jupiter before going to bed, it rises in the East at 9:30pm at the beginning of the month and 7:30pm at the end of the month.  Just look for the very bright object in the East, or if you’re getting up around sunrise, look to the SSW, no more than 20˚ above the horizon.

 

EVENTS...

1stClose Encounter – Moon, Mars, Venus – Look to the SW between 5:30pm and 8:30pm and you can catch a nice crescent Moon making a triangle with ruddy red Mars and brilliantly bright Venus.

4thOccultation of Aldebaran – Almost all of the U.S. will be able to watch a very bright star DISAPPEAR behind the Moon!  As the Moon slowly marches across the constellations, sometimes it passes in front of bright stars that we can see disappear and reappear, and on the night of the 4th the Moon will pass in front of Aldebaran in Taurus.  The timing depends on your location (get times here), and there’s even a line where you’ll see Aldebaran graze the Moon and perhaps blink in and out of visibility due to the unevenness of the Moon’s surface (a LOT more details here). Timing here in Lancaster County, PA will be: Disappearance 11:07pm, Reappearance 11:35pm. It’s a late, but very short time to be out for something cool like this.

First Quarter Moon – 5th (Visible until midnight)

Full Moon – 12th (Visible all night)

12th – Daylight Savings Time Begins at 2am

14thClose Encounter – Moon, Jupiter, Spica – Look E after 9:00pm or SW before 5:00am.  On the 14th the Moon, Jupiter, and Spica will make a nice triangle in the sky, with Jupiter to the right of the Moon and Spica.

Last Quarter Moon – 20th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

20thClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Look SE after 2am and before sunrise (6am).  Saturn will be the very bright point 2˚ below the waning crescent Moon on the 20th.

20th - Spring Equinox - Astronomically the first day of Spring, even though meteorologically Spring starts in the beginning of March.  Here’s some more info.

New Moon – 28th (darkest skies)

29th – 30thClose Encounter – Moon, Mercury, Mars – Sunset is right around 6:30pm.  On the 29th, if you have a clear view of the western horizon, you should be able to catch Mercury and the Moon about 15˚ above the horizon, 9˚ apart from each other.  Binoculars should help.  On the next night, the Moon will be higher, and about 7˚ to the left of Mars.

 

CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

After Sunset (sunset is around 5:30-6:30pm) – Auriga (Taurus is right nearby), Gemini

Between Sunset and Midnight – Cancer, Gemini, Lynx, and Leo later in the month - Extra Challenge! Find M44 in the Middle of Cancer – an open cluster of stars also known as the Beehive Cluster.  You may be able to see it as a small fuzzy patch with your naked eye if you have very dark skies.  However with a pair of binoculars or a telescope on low power, it will look like a hive of bees in the distance, hence its nickname.

Midnight – Leo, Leo Minor, Ursa Major’s legs

Early Morning – Corona Borealis, Hercules, Boötes (you can also find the Big Dipper’s handle, and starting from the inside of the handle, follow the arc that those four stars make past the last star in the handle about 30˚ or three fist-widths to the next very bright star you find which is Arcturus, the base of the constellation Boötes.  Hence astronomers use the phrase “Follow the Arc to Arcturus”)

GENERAL CONSTELLATION FINDING TIPS: 

Winter constellations:  Orion is easy to spot as he is high in the south as the Sun sets.  You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations.

Using Orion:  Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion’s belt in the South after 7pm.  If you draw a line from the left star to the right star and keep going right about 20 degrees (about 2 fists at arm’s length) until you reach another very bright star, you will have reached the star Aldebaron in Taurus (the V).  Follow that line a little more (about another fist) and you’ll find the Pleiades.

If you start at his belt again, but instead go the opposite way and draw a line from the right star in Orion’s belt to the left star, and keep going left about 20 degrees (2 fists again), you’ll come to the brightest star in the sky – Sirius – part of Canis Major.

Above these three constellations are Gemini and Auriga.  The brightest stars in each of these constellations form a circle in the sky.  Going clockwise - Aldebaron (Taurus) – Rigel (Orion – bottom right foot) – Sirius (Canis Major) – Procyon (Canis Minor) – Castor & Pollux (Gemini) – Capella (Auriga).  It makes for great stargazing in the winter sky.

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.

 

 

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