April 2013

April is not the most exciting month, especially after Comet PanSTARRS.  However, the Moon will be very close to Jupiter for a night and Saturn another, the Lyrid Meteor Shower will make its quiet presence known, and you might be able to see Comet PanSTARRS (see my best pics here) and the Andromeda Galaxy in one binocular view.

EVENTS...

Last Quarter Moon - 3rd (Visible from midnight into the morning)

2nd - Comet PanSTARRS near Andromeda

New Moon - 10th (darkest skies)

14th -Close Encounter - Moon & Jupiter - Jupiter will be only 3˚ to the right of the waxing crescent Moon. Just find the Moon, and you'll find Jupiter right there.  Also in the area are Taurus (the Hyades), Aldebaron, and the Pleiades.

First Quarter Moon - 18th (Visible until midnight)

21st - 22nd - LYRID METEOR SHOWER - The Lyrids aren't really a strong meteor shower, but at least it's warmer out than in the Fall (hopefully).  This year isn't all that great either, since the Gibbous Moon will be bright and will be out almost all night.  That means the best time to look is in the morning before twilight and after 3:30am.  There are typically only 10-20 meteors per hour, so be patient.  Here's the typical advice for watching a meteor shower:

Find a dark location, and lie down in a reclining chair or swimming pool floaty

Dress in multiple layers and bring hot chocolate

Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear (weather.com has a good map here)

You want to look at the sky as a whole rather than looking at one spot or through a telescope or binoculars.  You never know where in the sky they will be.

But you DO know where they will come from - Lyra!  Look toward Lyra (In the NNE close to the horizon around 10pm, rises throughout the night until sunrise where it will be almost directly above.)  That is where the radiant is - where the meteors will appear to be coming from.  If you trace the meteors' steps back, they should all go to that spot.

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.

The shower is usually active from April 16th to April 25th, but it peaks on the morning of the 22nd.  You may see a few stray Lyrids in the days leading up to and after the peak.

Full Moon - 25th (Visible all night - East around sunset, West around Sunrise)

25th - Close Encounter - Saturn & Moon - Get out after 8:30pm to find the Full Moon.  Then look about half a fist-width at arm's length away up and to the left and find the very bright object which is Saturn.

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

Planets you can see around Sunset - Jupiter (W)

Planets you can see throughout the night - Saturn (ESE)

Planets you can see in the Morning - Saturn (SàW)

Mercury - Either in the Sun's glare, or not worth looking for just yet.

Venus - In the Sun's glare, or not worth looking for just yet.

Mars - In the Sun's glare.

JUPITER - Look West after sunset and before 11pm. Close to the Moon on the 14th.  Use binoculars or a telescope to try to see the four Galilean Moons.  If you're looking at Taurus, Jupiter's the very bright one above the V of Taurus.

SATURN - Look ESE after 10p.m. in the beginning of the month and after sunset toward the end of the month and find the very bright object which is Saturn. Close to the Moon on the 25th. Use binoculars or a telescope and try to see its rings, or as Galileo called them, "ears"

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:  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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