Highlights of the April Night Sky
By Bob Haskins
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 step outdoors tonight and discover the treasures of the night sky.
The Planets: “Evenings on the “Ecliptic” The Sun and the planets all follow an imaginary path in the sky called the ecliptic.
The drought continues for viewing the planets after sunset.
Mars is the only planet visible before midnight and can be located in the W halfway up in the night-time sky after sunset.
Saturn can be seen in the south
Jupiter is in the SSW and is the brightest planet this month. On the 23rd Jupiter can be seen nestled right next to the Moon.
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 in a few more months will 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.
Last month Arlene and I were in Arizona and paid a visit to the Meteor Crater outside of Flagstaff. Approximately 50,000 years ago an asteroid entered our atmosphere traveling at 26,000 mph and slammed into the ground creating a huge hole approximately a mile across and 800 feet deep. The meteorite, which was mostly composed of iron and nickel, left few traces. The largest piece discovered was the size of a dishwasher, the rest of the meteorite broke up into small fragments and were scatted like bird seed. These fragments can be picked up by a magnet even today. Two or three times a century a large meteor can be expected to enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Just last month one exploded over the Bering Sea with the explosive power of 10 atomic bombs.
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)