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Sky Report -April 2011

As April opens, you can see the crescent moon and brilliant Venus low in the East Southeast (try 6  a.m.).

Planets and Moon Mingle Low in Eastern Dawn
   
As April opens, you can see the crescent moon and brilliant Venus low in the East Southeast (try 6  a.m.).

On the evening of April 3rd, the planet Saturn is closest to the Earth, rising as the sun sets and setting as the sun rises. Saturn will then be 801 million miles from Earth. Light then reflected from Saturn’s cloud tops will have taken 72 minutes to reach Earth. In the late evening, Saturn will be high enough for good views of its rings.

On the evening of April 4th, the crescent moon may be seen low in the 8:20 p.m western dusk. On the evening of April 7th,  the crescent moon will appear near the Pleiades or 7 Sisters star cluster. By April 11th, the moon will appear half full, with its bowed side facing sunward. On the evening of April 13th, the moon appears near Regulus, the heart star of Leo. On April 16th, the moon will appear underneath the planet Saturn in the southeastern evening sky. On the next night, the moon is full, appearing close to Spica, Virgo’s brightest star.

After full, the moon quickly leaves the evening sky, rising more than an hour later each night. After April 20th, the moon will be rising after midnight. On April 25th, the moon will appear half full (like a ‘reversed D’) in the southern dawn sky. On April 30th, the moon will appear as a slender crescent low in 5:45 a.m. eastern dawn.    

Just below the moon will be the brilliant planet Venus. A little to the left of Venus and below is the planet Mercury. Yet farther to the left and close to the horizon will be the planets Jupiter and Mars, only one moon width apart. To see all  four planets, you will need a very flat eastern horizon and the use of binoculars.

April is the last month to see the bright winter evening stars in the western dusk. Orion’s belt points rightward to Taurus’ brightest star and the 7 Sisters or Pleiades star cluster. Each week, Taurus will appear lower in the western dusk as the Earth’s movement about the sun causes the sun to drift from Pisces into Aries.

Orion is also losing height as spring progresses. By the end of April, only the brighter stars of Orion will be seen in the western dusk. The winter evening stars that will be seen through May are in the star groups Gemini, Auriga (the Charioteer) and the Little Dog.

In the East, more spring star groups are becoming easier to view. Follow the handle of the Big Dipper to the bright golden star Arcturus in the East. Arcturus is part of Bootes, whose brighter stars form a ‘ice cream cone’ held horizontally in the eastern sky. Below the northern, wider part of the cone is Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, which can be imagined to be a scoop that has fallen off the cone.

In the South, the compact star group Corvus is easy to spot. This four sided group is underneath Virgo. The two top stars of Corvus points leftward to Spica, Virgo’s brightest star. Above Corvus is the planet Saturn in the 9-10 p.m. sky.

On April dawns,  the sky has turned to nearly the opposite direction we face in the early evening. The late fall evening stars are then on display. Sparkling in the West is the very bright star Vega. The Big Dipper is then very close to the northern horizon. In the Northeast is the bright golden star Capella.

Featured in April at the Frostburg State Planetarium is “The Sun’s Nearest Neighbor Stars” with free public programs on April 3rd, 10th and 17th at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. The Planetarium is Tawes 302, just off the front lobby that faces the Compton Science Center. Our programs last about 45 minutes. At 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., Planetarium visitors are invited to tour the Science Discovery Center, that features a fantastic collection of preserved animals from 5 continents. To get a free Planetarium/Discovery Center bookmark through the mail, call (301) 687-7799 and state your name and mailing address.


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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