What's Up in the Night Sky?

April 2014 - Vol. 18, No. 4

Astra's Star Gate

This Month's Night Sky - NOTE: The next paragraph describes the sky as it appears at 10 pm EST (11 pm EDT) near mid- month. The sky also looks this way at 11 pm EST (midnight EDT) during the beginning of the month and at 9 pm EST (10 pm EDT) by month's end.

Look S as night falls to see the brightest star of the evening, Sirius (Canis Major). Look to its upper right to find the familiar "hour glass" asterism of constellation Orion with bright white Rigel (lower right) and red Betelgeuse (upper left). Below the three Belt stars, lies the Great Orion Nebula (M42 & M43) visible to the naked eye as a hazy patch of light. Now shift your gaze to the left to find another bright star, Procyon (Canis Minor) the upper star of the "Winter Triangle" mentioned last month. Above Procyon, and to its left, Saturn glows brightly and above Saturn at to its right are the Gemini twins, Pollux and Castor. As the month progresses and winter becomes spring, orange Aldebaran (Taurus) comes into view to the W. Just to the left of Aldebaran, a star cluster, the Hyades, might be faintly visible under dark sky conditions. Above that glows the more famous cluster, the Pleiades (M45). Although smaller that the Hyades, it is much brighter and should be visible as another hazy patch of light. Some may even be able to make out the tiny "dipper" arrangement of its eight brightest stars. High above and a bit to the right is brilliant Capella (Auriga) and farther right is the famous "W" asterism of Cassiopeia.

MERCURY morning apparition favors observers in the southern hemisphere. VENUS, still bright in the higher in morning sky reaching greatest elongation W. this month. JUPITER, located in the constellation of Gemini sets about 4 hours after the sun.. MARS located in Virgo, reaches opposition on April 8. SATURN rises about 3 hours after sunset. This month includes a total Lunar eclipse on the 15th and an annular eclipse that is very southerly.

Review how to determine Angular Measurement.

Calendar of Events

NOTE: For those observers not in the ET zone, convert the calendar times to your zone's time by subtracting one hour for CT, two for MT and three for PT. Don't forget to adjust for Daylight Savings Time when necessary by subtracting one hour from your planisphere's time. Dawn and dusk times must also be corrected. See your local newspaper, TV news, or cable TV's Weather Channel for sunrise and sunset times. Unfortunately some of these events may occur during daylight hours in your area.

04 Aldebaran 4 deg S. of Moon..
06 Jupiter 5 deg N. of Moon.
08 Mars at opposition. The Moon is at apogee, look for it below the beehive.
12 Venus .7 deg N. of Neptune.
13 Vesta at opposition.
14 Mars, closest approach to Earth. The red planet with be 3 deg N. of the Moon.

Total Lunar Eclipse! Earth gets between the Moon and the Sun, causing the lunar surface to turn a coppery red color. Totality will last for 79 minutes. Spica (Alpha Virginis)1.7 deg S. of the Moon. Ceres at opposition.

22 Venus at greatest elongation W.
21 Saturn .4 deg N. of the Moon, an occultation in S. America.
22 Lyrid meteor shower peak.

Moon at perigee.

24 Neptune 5 deg. S of Moon.
25 Venus .4 deg S. of the Moon.
29 Mercury in superior conjunction. Annular Solar Eclipse should be visible from parts of Australia, the greatest eclipse is unfortunately over Antarctica.
31 Mars 3 deg N. of the Moon.

Lunar Almanac for April 2014

Phases of the Moon Phase and Date(s) Best viewed before local midnight
new moon New
Deep Space Objects
first quarter moon 1st. Qtr
Planets & Moon
full moon Full
last quarter moon Last Qtr
Deep Space & Planets

Spring Sky and a Total Lunar Eclipse

April brings Spring to the northern hemisphere. Now the daylight hours seem to grow quickly, and the Winter constellations make a quick exit. The Spring sky may seem dark to us, because the bright star clouds of the Milky Way are hidden beneath the horizon until very early morning. As the evening progresses the sky reveals a dark ocean of stars that is unbroken by the clouds of the galaxy because the Winter Milky Way sets just before mid-night.

This April, the morning sky treats us to a very special spectacle, a total lunar eclipse that occurs in the early morning hours for those in the best locations in the western hemisphere. Total lunar eclipses are visible without a telescope, and are normalyl visible to a great number of people (unlike a solar eclipse.) It occurs because Earth comes directly between the moon and the Sun, causing a shadow to fall on the lunar disk. Because the Earth is so much larger than the Moon, the dark core of the shadow remains on the disk for up to two hours. The April 15 eclipse is the first total lunar eclipse visible from all of North America since 2010.

The total phase of this lunar eclipse is predicted to last 79 minutes and should be a fairly deep eclipse for those in favored locations in North and South America. Look for the nearby first magnitude star, Spica or Alpha Virginis to astronomers. If you see this eclipse, you won't miss the bright and red planet, Mars, just a few days after opposition. The red planet will complement the coppery lunar disk at totality, and both will contrast with Spica, that has a bluish color. Because the moon is in the lower part of the Earth's shadow the southern half of the moon should be brighter than the northern half. Take note of the colors and see how many colors appear to you.

This image comes from the planetarium program, Stellarium, edited by Astra to show the location of the Moon at the moment of totality. Also visible in this image are the main belt asteroids of Ceres and Vesta that will reach opposition from the Sun in the same constellation of Virgo. This should be no surprise because the monthly calendar shows that Vesta is at opposition on April 13 and Ceres at opposition the same night as Mars. Virgo is a Spring constellation because it is opposite of the Sun in the Spring.

Finder Chart for the Total Lunar Eclipse of April 2014.

For additional information on this eclipse and other, check out Mr.. Eclipse April 15, 2014 Total Lunar Eclipse Page. This site offers a view of lunar eclipse diagrams that are found at the NASA Eclipse site's Eclipses during 2014 Page.

--See You Under the Stars!
Astra for Astra's Almanac

This installment of "Whats Up?" is ©2014 by Dawn Jenkins for Astra's Stargate. View Ron Leeseburg's Farewell Issue for information on where to find information such as is presented in this almanac.