Highlights of the April Night Sky
Brought to you by: Bob Haskins @ Waterville Estates
Do your part and help preserve the dark skies that we are fortunate to have in Waterville Estates. Turn off all unnecessary outdoor lighting.
After a long winter it is the time to step outdoors and seek the treasures of the night sky.
Go outside tonight and be a stargazer
The Planets: “Evenings on the “Ecliptic” The Sun and the planets all follow an imaginary path in the sky called the ecliptic.
Venus is the highlight of the evening this month shinning brightly in the west at dusk. The altitude of the planet increases gradually throughout the month.
Jupiter rises in the ESE 3 hours after sunset as April begins and ½ hour after sunset at the end of the month. Look for it shining brightly in the south high in the nighttime sky.
Saturn and Mars are closely coupled high in the sky in the SSE at dawn.
Stars and Constellations:
April is the month of rapid change and hopefully spring is in the air. The Earth is beginning to lean more into the Sun with each passing day. Its rays hit the Earth more directly for us in the northern hemisphere, just enough to tip the balance between the two seasons. The winter constellations are getting closer to the western horizon each night as the month progresses and will soon be gone.
Our featured constellation this month is Leo the Lion (see attached diagram). If you look at this grouping of stars you can almost picture the head of the lion, the mythological figure it represents. Some people find it easier to associate the grouping as a “sickle” or backwards question mark. Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation and because it has no rivals in this part of the sky it is hard to miss. However it falls on the ecliptic ( the path that all the planets travel) so beware, a planet might be in the vicinity. To the left of Leo’s head, as you are facing south, you will notice a triangle; this represents the body of the lion.
Another constellation of interest this month is “Hydra” the sea serpent. This constellation covers more celestial real estate than any other and is difficult to follow through the night sky. However the head of the serpent is worth looking for, you might try using binoculars. The head lies below the sickle and a little to the right.
Amateur astronomers with just modest equipment can still make major discoveries. A case in point involves an amateur astronomer from Argentina who was taking short exposures of a galaxy, far far away, for an hour and a half. When he looked at his images he realized that he had captured a supernova, an enormous flash of light and energy, bursting from a distant star. This was the first time anyone had captured the initial shock-wave of a supernova.
Comment / Factoid of the Month:
April 13 – 18 is International Dark Sky week. Enjoy the stars and give some thought on how you can cut down on light pollution at your home in Waterville Estates.
How many stars can we see? In a typical large city using just your unaided eye, you would be lucky to see just a dozen stars. In the suburbs you could possibly see a few hundred. In WVE we could see as many as 2000 – 2500 stars in the sky at one time. The reason for the difference is light pollution.
Astronomy Websites to explore:
- heavens-above.com (satellites that are passing overhead)
- com (The evening sky map for the month)
- nasa.gov (sign up for alerts for the International Space Station)