Highlights of the April Night Sky
Brought to you by: 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 step outdoors tonight and discover 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.
Dusk and into the night:
Venus: Our sister planet is the only naked-eye planet visible in the night-time sky this month; however it steals the show. Venus is high in the night sky and at its brightest – you absolutely cannot miss it in the western sky. The brilliance of Venus increases from -4.5 to -4.7 as the month progress’s. Venus sets 3.5 hours after the Sun sets.
Dawn: Saturn, Jupiter and Mars are all visible as a group on the ecliptic in the SE 45 minutes before sunrise.
Moon: The Moon is full on April 7h
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 they will disappear.
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.
We have a visitor. Comet ATLAS has entered our solar system and is half as large as our Sun but is not yet visible to the naked eye. The comet is the biggest green thing in our solar system. The green color comes from a form of carbon that emits a beautiful green glow in the near-vacuum of space. Currently, Comet ATLAS is shinning at 8th magnitude but is expected to rival Venus at twilight by late May.
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)