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Our Friendly Skies - April 2013

March 31, 2013|By CHRIS KOPKO/William Brish Planetarium and ANDY SMETZER/Tristate Astronomers
  • The All-Sky Chart for April 2013.
Tristate Astronomers

April is upon us. That means a last opportunity for some early evening viewing of some of the famous winter constellations like Orion, while familiar spring and summer constellations rise earlier each evening to take their place. Let’s take a look at some things you can expect to see this month, beginning with the stars!
 
Start by using the Big Dipper to help us locate some familiar constellations in the night sky. Find the Big Dipper by looking high in the northern sky, with four stars forming the cup and the three stars that form the handle pointing back to the east where the sun rises in the morning.

Follow the curved arc of the handle as we “Arc to Arcturus,” a bright orange-red star found about halfway between the horizon and the zenith, which is the point directly overhead at your location. Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation Bootes the Herdsman. 

Now go back to the Big Dipper once again, but this time, imagine poking holes in the bottom of the cup.  Then imagine pouring water into the cup which would then “Leak to Leo” out the bottom.  Leo is identified by the backwards question mark shaped sickle, which marks the head and mane of the lion, with the bright star Regulus at the bottom, marking the lion’s heart. His body then extends back toward the east from here. 
 
April is also the last month where we will see some prominent winter stars in the early evening sky until next fall.  Look to the western horizon, where the sun sets to see the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius.  Sirius is where you would find the tag on the collar of Canis Major, The Great Dog. 

To the north of Sirius, also just a little above the horizon, you’ll see three stars in a row that make up the belt of Orion the Hunter.  The bright orange-red star to the east of the belt is called Betelgeuse, while the bright blue star to the west, just above the horizon, is Rigel.

Finally, look just past the shield of Orion to the North to find the “V” shaped head of Taurus the Bull, and his bright orange eye, the star Aldebaran. 
 
For a more detailed tour of the night sky check out Skylights, the monthly podcast tour of the night sky, downloadable at www.antpod.com.
 

The April solar system

Evening Planets

JUPITER is still visible in the evening sky though still brighter than Sirius, continues to fade. Look for Jupiter shining brightly in the western sky in the constellation Taurus the Bull.
 
VENUS will not be visible early in the month, but by the end of April, it should be visible very low on the western horizon, just after sunset, making it very hard to pick out.
 
SATURN will be visible all month, rising earlier each night after sunset and reaches opposition on April 28.  Though Saturn does not shine as brightly as Jupiter, Saturn will still be impressive as it makes its nightly trek through the southern sky.  Use a telescope to check out Saturn’s rings and some of its moons.

Morning Planets

MERCURY will be low on the eastern horizon this month, appearing lower and lower after sunset each night.  To spot Mercury, a pair of binoculars may be necessary.
 
NEPTUNE may be visible early in the morning in April, but will be very low on the eastern horizon at twilight. 
 
MARS and URANUS will not be visible this month as they will both are too near the sun to make an appearance.

 
April sun and moon

On April 1, sunrise is at 6:55 a.m. and sunset at 7:34 p.m., for 12 hours and 39 minutes of daylight.  By April 30, sunrise will occur at 6:13 a.m., with the sun setting later in the evening at 8:03 p.m. for 13 hours and 50 minutes of daylight, a 71-minute increase from the beginning of the month.
 
Third quarter moon is April 3, new moon on April 10, first quarter on April 18, and the moon will be full on April 25. 

 
Special events

THE LYRID METEOR SHOWER is slated to occur this month, with the peak happening in the early morning hours on April 22.  Though this meteor shower generally produces only about 20 meteors per hour at its peak, there have been times in years past that the Lyrids have unexpectedly put on a much more magnificent show, with short bursts of over 100 meteors per hour. These bursts are rare and unpredictable, so keep your eyes on the sky to see what this year’s shower has to offer!
 
Join us for the TRISTATE ASTRONOMERS PUBLIC STAR PARTY at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg  the evenings of April 19 and 20, beginning at sunset.  Located near the Visitor Center, the evening will include laser guided sky tours, a Kids Zone where kids can get real hands-on experience, and many telescopes set up for public viewing.  This star party is free and open to the public!  We hope to see you there!  (The event will be canceled if completely cloudy skies occur.)
 

William Brish Planetarium/TriState Astronomers

The William Brish Planetarium will run programs open to the public on the first and third Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m., unless otherwise noted.  April shows include the new program Hotter Than Blue on Wednesday, April 3, and Tuesday, April 16.  For more information, visit www.wbplanetarium.weebly.com
 
The next meeting for the TriState Astronomers will be held at the William Brish Planetarium on Wednesday, April 17, at 7:30 p.m.  All are welcome!  For more information, visit www.tristateastronomers.org

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