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Sky Report - April 2012

Venus Visits the 7 Sisters, Good Friday's Full Moon and Astronomy Day on April 28th

On the evenings of April 2nd, 3rd and 4th, the brilliant planet Venus will appear on the edge of the 7 Sisters or Pleiades star cluster. On April 3rd, Venus will be less than a moon width away from the Pleiades' brightest star, Alcyone. Because of the glare of Venus, you are advised to use binoculars so you can see the star cluster well. Venus passes close by the Pleiades every 8th April. The next such encounter will be in April 2020. In April 2036, Venus will pass over the center of the Pleiades cluster. The Pleiades or 7 Sisters is a young star cluster whose stars formed about 50 million years ago. This cluster lies at a distance of about 400 light years. In contrast, Venus will then be 60 million miles away or 5.4 light minutes away.

The moon will appear full on Friday evening, April 6th. This will cause Easter to fall on the next Sunday, April 8th. The rule for Easter is: Wait till the first full moon after or on March 21st and then Easter falls on the next Sunday. This means that the earliest Easter can be is March 22nd, when there is a full moon on March 21st. The latest Easter occurs when there is a full moon on March 20th. Then we will have to wait another 30 days for the next full moon, which can occur on April 20th. If this is a Monday, then the latest Easter will occur on April 25th. So Easter this year is in the middle of the range of possible Easter dates.

April 28th is National Astronomy Day when Astronomy clubs across the U.S. have public telescope viewing for the public. There will be telescopes set up in Frostburg for this event. This day is in late spring on a Saturday when the moon is close to half full or first quarter, offering fine views of the moon's craters. Also viewed will be the planets Venus, Mars and Saturn. This event will be publicized in local newspapers.

Early April Sights - The month opens with the moon 2/3rd full in the southwestern evening sky. On the evening of April 3rd, the moon appears underneath the yellow planet Mars. On April 6th, the moon is full and close to the bright star Spica of Virgo. Higher and to the right is the planet Saturn. High in the East is the sparkling orange star Acturus.

Mid April Sights - By April 13th, the moon has shrunk to half full in the morning dawn sky. On April 15th, the planet Saturn. is closest and brightest to the Earth, rising as the sun sets and hanging in the sky all night long. Saturn is then 811 million miles from the Earth, so far that its light takes over an hour for its reflected sunlight to reach us. You need a telescopic magnification about 50 times to see Saturn's rings clearly. In the morning sky, the planet Mercury is at its greatest angle from the sun on April 18th; it can be seen low in the East a half hour before sunrise.

Late April Sights - The moon passes North of the sun on April 21st. On April 23rd in the western dusk, the crescent moon appears to the left of the Pleiades or 7 Sisters star cluster. On April 24th the moon appears below and to the right of the Venus. On April 29th, the evening moon appears half full (like a tilted 'D'). Along the moon's straight or left edge, the sun is rising, catching the rim of craters and mountain peaks. On the evening before, amateur astronomy clubs around the country host public telescope viewing on Astronomy Day. On April 30th, the planet Venus is at its greatest brilliance in the western dusk, owing to its distance from Earth and portion of its lighted disk seen from Earth.

In April, our free public sky show in the 2nd floor of Compton Science Center is "Predators of the African Plains and their Skies", including Lions, Leopards, Hyenas and wild cats. Also included is a look at Tropical Skies where Orion crosses overhead, the Southern Cross is stunning and the Milky Way is better viewed. Our programs start at 4 p.m. and end up in the Science Discovery Center where some remarkable specimens are on display. There will be no program on April 8th, Easter Sunday. The Compton Science Center is the large building close to the Performing Art Center. You can park in front of Performing Arts Center and walk around it to the right. Or you can park near Frampton Hall. The full program will last less than an hour.

By Dr. Bob Doyle

To contact Dr. Doyle, his mailing address is Planetarium, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD 21532 or by email at rdoyle@frostburg.edu.









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