Skywatch Line for Friday, April 8, through Sunday, April 10, 2016

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, April 8, through Sunday, April 10, written by Sam Salem.

This is a weekend amateur astronomers throughout the Northeast look forward to the annual Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF) at SUNY Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York. This is the world’s largest trade show of telescopes and accessories, and it’s only a two to three hour drive from the Capital District region. In addition to exhibits by more than 100 vendors, there are lectures, programs for beginners, and special events for children. Weather permitting; there is also solar party daily observing, where some of the finest safe solar telescopes provide fantastic views of the Sun, in white light and the red light of glowing hydrogen.  Event hours are 8:30 am to 6:00 pm, Saturday, April 9, and 10:30 am to 5:00 pm, Sunday, April 10. For full details visit the NEAF website.

On Friday, the Sun rises at 6:25am and sets at 7:31pm. The New Moon occurred on Thursday, at 7:24am. Waxing crescent of the Moon’s visible disk is 2% illuminated on Friday, increasing to 7% illumination on Saturday, and 15% on Sunday night.  The Moon sets at 9:11pm Friday, 10:24pm Saturday, and 11:32pm Sunday.

On Saturday, the crescent Moon shines in the west in twilight.  Look for Mercury far down to its lower right.  Mercury just passed the perihelion point of its orbit, when it’s closest to the sun. Therefore, it is moving rapidly, becoming more favorably placed with each passing day.

As the stars come out, spot Aldebaran to the Moon’s upper left and the Pleiades to its upper right.  Aldebaran is a giant star.  It is the brightest star in the zodiac constellation of Taurus.  The name Aldebaran means “the follower” in Arabic.  Presumably, it got this name because it rises near and soon after the Pleiades.  Aldebaran is about 65 light years away.  The planetary exploration probe Pioneer 10 is currently heading in the general direction of Aldebaran and should make its closest approach in about two million years.

Venus is deep in the glow of sunrise.  Saturn and Mars continue to move closer to each other until April 20 when the minimum distance between them is reached. Saturn shines near Mars from late evening until dawn where they are both near Antares in the constellation Scorpius.

Jupiter continues to be the brightest planet on April nights.  It is the only planet to light up the sky almost immediately after sunset.  The giant plant climbs highest up to its transit altitude around 10:50pm and sets in the west before dawn.  Although Jupiter is almost impossible to miss, it might be possible to confuse it with Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.  At nightfall and early evening, Jupiter moves over the eastern half of sky, while Sirius shines to the west of Jupiter, dominating over the western half of sky.  To confirm if you’re looking at Sirius, and not Jupiter, use the three stars forming the Orion’s belt to point down towards it.

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