Teacher Resources

Beginner’s Guide to Sky Gazing in Spring '19

(April, May, June)

by Dr. Bob Doyle, Sky Columnist

When do the bright stars and planets begin to be seen?

In April, it’s about 9 p.m. For May, stars & planets begin to be seen at 9:30 p.m. and for June, sky objects can be seen at 10 p.m.

How do you find directions without using a compass?

After the sun sets, you will see the brightest twilight glow extended side wards points roughly South.

How do you tell a bright star from a bright planet?

Both objects appear as points of light, but the planets tend to shine more steadily than the stars. The planets are found only along the zodiac, a band in the sky that runs from the East, into the South and then down into the West.

How do the stars and planets change position during the night?

The Earth spins Eastward, that is why Europe has sunrises while we are still in the a.m. darkness. As a reflection of this eastward spin, the stars, moon and planets roll towards the West during the night. Stars will appear to rise in the East (as the sun does) , usually cruise into the South and then drop out of view in the West. Tth only exception to this behavior are stars in the North that seem to circle about the North Star in a direction opposite to how the hands of a clock moves. The North Star is not very bright.

During the Spring 2019 months, when can I see the moon?

April 19, May 18 and June 17 are the dates for full moon (which change from year to year). I call the full moon the night moon as it is visible all night long. A week before the full moon is when the moon appears half full in the evening sky. I call this the evening moon as it is mostly seen during evening hours (p.m.). You can also see the evening moon during the daylight afternoon hours. A week after the full moon is when the moon appears half full in the morning sky. I call this moon the morning moon as it is seen during the morning hours (a.m.) You can also see the morning moon in the morning daylight hours.

What stars and star groups are the easiest to spot during the spring evening months?

The Big Dipper (7 stars) is upside down high in the North. The Dipper’s two leftmost stars point down the North Star, a modest star about half way up in the North. If you take the three stars of the Dipper’s handle and make an arc with them and go outward about one Dipper’s length, you come to the bright orange star Arcturus. When you face Arcturus, it seems to be the tip of an ice cream cone held sidewards in the sky. Arcturus is part of the Bear Driver (Bootes), who is chasing the Big Bear (Big Dipper) and Little Bear (Little Bear) around the North Star. The same two stars of the Dipper’s bowl point up and away into the South to Leo, the Lion. Leo’s brightest stars form a backwards question mark (or sickle) with a starry triangle to the left. The sickle can be seen as the the chest and head of the Lion, who is facing the winter evening stars dropping into the West.

How many stars can be seen by eye on a clear, dark night?

In our area, perhaps a thousand stars might be seen. From a dry, desert area in the Southwestern U.S., perhaps two thousand stars may be visible. From the center of a large city, perhaps only a few hundred stars may be seen. Binoculars will allow you to see many more stars.

What more can you see with binoculars or a small telescope?

Binoculars held steadily may allow you to spot the moon’s craters and mountain ridges (when moon appears half full). In April, late in the evening the bright planet Jupiter can be seen. Small points of light nearby as seen in binoculars or a telescope are Jupiter’s large moons. In the late spring months Saturn appears low in the Southeast in the late evenings. Saturn’s rings can be seen with a telescope magnifying at least 40 times. This spring, the planet Mars is on the far side of its orbit and can be seen in the western sky. In April, Mars creeps towards the 7 Sisters star cluster. Venus and Mercury are both low in the April dawn sky.

For more sky information, contact rdoyle@frostburg.edu.

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Email: jcspeights@frostburg.edu (preferred)
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