April 2015

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

 

If you’re good, you’ll be able to see all of the naked eye planets, a weak meteor shower, and depending on where you live, part of a total lunar eclipse…a great month for astronomy!

 

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

Planets you can see around Sunset –Venus (W), Mars (W), Jupiter (S), Mercury (W)

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

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

 

Mercury – Only worth looking for at the end of the month, when it makes its best appearance for the year.  It will only be visible starting around the 18th, and is very low on the horizon and near the Pleiades.  Mercury will increase its height into May and will only be visible up to about 9pm. Close to the Moon on the 19th.

VENUS Look West after sunset and it will be the first “star” you see, shining brilliantly in the evening twilight.  If you have binoculars or a telescope, you may be able to see the gibbous phase of Venus. Close to the Moon on the 21st.

Mars – Mars gets harder and harder to see throughout the month, but if you want to see it, look West after sunset and look for the visibly red “star”. It’ll be very close to the horizon.  Close to the Moon on the 19th.

JUPITER – Jupiter is already high up in the S after sunset, so watch Jupiter move from the S to the West by 3am. If you know your constellations, look to the right of Leo in Cancer.  Don’t forget the binoculars or telescope for the Galilean Moons and the cloud bands on its surface.  Close to the Moon on the night of the 26th and 27th. 

Saturn – Saturn rises in the SE around midnight at the beginning of this month, and rises earlier and higher as the month goes on eventually rising at 10pm by month’s end. Close to the Moon on the 8th in the morning.

EVENTS...

Full Moon – 4th (Visible all night)

TOTAL(ISH) LUNAR ECLIPSE – 4th – If you’re on the East Coast, you’re pretty much out of luck, but you’ll be able to catch a little bit of the partial part of the eclipse, if you have a clear view of the Western horizon in the morning. The penumbral part of the eclipse isn’t anything to worry about.  It’s the partial eclipse that you’ll be thinking about.  Look West, and at about 6:15am EDT the Moon will start entering the dark part of the Earth’s shadow.  Sunrise (for me in PA) is only half an hour later, so that leaves much to be desired.

                        On the other hand, if you’re in California for this eclipse, you’ll see a Full Moon in the SW around 3:15am PDT enter Earth’s umbral shadow, and thus begins the partial eclipse.  The shadow will continue to “eat away” at the Moon until it completely engulfs it at 5:54am PDT.  Totality only lasts for about 10 minutes, depending on whose definitions of the umbra you use, so you’ll be able to all of totality, but sunrise comes quick at 6:36am PDT for Los Angeles, so you’ll contend with some dawn twilight. If you live in Hawaii, it’s a great view for the entire event.

                        For more information, including time charts, go to Sky & Telescope.

8thClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Get out after 1am EDT and look East for a gibbous Moon with Saturn 4˚ down and to the left. By 5am, they’ll be in the South.

Last Quarter Moon – 11th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

New Moon – 18th (darkest skies)

19thClose Encounter – Moon, Mars, Mercury – Get out around sunset (7:47pm) and bring binoculars to see the VERY thin crescent Moon in the West only 10˚ above the horizon.  Mars will be only a few degrees to the right, with Mercury down and to the right.  The dusk and the relative thinness of the Moon will make this difficult, but not impossible if you have a good view of the horizon and binoculars.

21stClose Encounter – Moon, Venus – Get out around sunset again and wait until you can see either the first “star” which is Venus, or the thin crescent Moon.  The Moon will be easier to see than two days ago, due to it being thicker as well as higher in the sky.  Venus will be just 7˚ to the right of the Moon, with the V of Taurus below.

22nd – LYRID METEOR SHOWER – Not the strongest shower, at only 10-20 meteors per hour, however there is no moon to interfere.  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 swimming pool floaty

    Look toward Lyra (In the NNE around 9pm, 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

    The strategy to observe this one is to start watching in the evening and continue until daylight.

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

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.  More info at S&T and IMO

25th – 26thClose Encounter – Moon, Jupiter – Get out after sunset and look S for a First Quarter Moon with Jupiter 9˚ up and to the left on the 25th and 7˚ to the right on the 26th.    

First Quarter Moon – 25th (Visible until midnight)

 

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 MidnightLeo, 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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