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Monthly Sky Report - April 2006

Getting Directions
To find the planets, bright stars and groups, you need to know the compass directions where you watch the sky. Lacking a compass, you can use the sun at the start, middle and end of the day. As you face the rising sun - it will be rising nearly in the East. In mid day (around 1 p.m. DST), look at your shadow which then points North. The sun will set nearly in the West.

All Through April
During April, there is an average of 13.2 hours of sunlight each day. During April, the sunsets advance from about 7:40 p.m. to 8:08 p.m. Sunrises change from 7 a.m. early in the month to 6:17 a.m. at month's end. (All times are Daylight Times.) Stars begin to fade away an hour before sunrise and the star groups come into view an hour after sunset. In April, the most prominent star group is the Big Dipper upside down and high in the North. The Dipper two leftmost stars point down to the North Star, a modest star half way up in the North. The Big Dipper's handle can be extended outward to the bright golden star Arcturus, the brightest spring evening star. The brightest star group Orion is low in the early evening in the West. Orion's three star belt points left to Sirius, the night's brightest star. The planets Mars, Saturn and Jupiter are on evening view in April. All three bright planets appear as bright, steady points of light, in contrast to the twinkling bright stars. Both Mars and Saturn are in the western evening sky. Mars appears to the right and above Orion. Saturn lies high above Orion in the faint star group Cancer. Saturn is about mid way between the two bright stars of Gemini and the Leo's bright star Regulus. Saturn is now very convenient for telescope viewing of its rings with small telescopes. Low in the southeastern evening sky is the very bright planet Jupiter. Jupiter's biggest moons can be glimpsed with binoculars. Late in the evening, telescopes will show its cloud belts as well. The brilliant planet Venus can be seen low in the southeastern dawn in April.

In the first few days of April, there's a crescent moon low in the western dusk. On April 3rd, the moon passes near the planet Mars. On April 4th, the moon is half full and at its best to view the moon's craters with binoculars or telescopes. On April 6th, the moon appears near the planet Saturn. On April 8th, the moon appears close to the heart star Regulus of Leo.

The evening moon moves from the star group Leo, through Virgo, and into Libra from April 10th through the 15th. The moon grows to full on April 13th, then appearing near Spica, Virgo's brightest star. This full moon of April is known as the Grass or Egg Moon. This first full moon of spring triggers Easter to occur on the following Sunday, April 16th. On April 14th, the moon appears near the very bright planet Jupiter.

The moon has moved into the early morning sky, allowing better viewing of the fainter evening sights. On April 24th, the crescent moon appears underneath the brilliant planet Venus in the southeastern dawn. On April 29th and 30th, a slender crescent moon can be seen low in the western dusk.

Astronomy Activities
The Cumberland Astronomy Club will have their meeting on Friday, April 21st at 7:30 p.m. at the LaVale Public Library. All interested sky gazers are welcome.

The featured April program at the Frostburg State Planetarium is "A Quick and Easy Intro to the Stars" with free Sunday showings at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on April 2nd, 9th, 23rd and 30th. (No shows on Easter Sunday, April 16th.) The Planetarium is just off the front lobby of Tawes Hall in mid campus with convenient free parking. There will be a free April sky charts available to visitors at the Sunday Planetarium programs. Call the Frostburg State Planetarium at (301) 687-4270 and press 4 to receive a free planetarium brochure which includes a map of how to reach the planetarium.










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