Skywatch Line for Friday, April 22, through Sunday, April 24, 2016

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, April 22, through Sunday, April 24, written by Sam Salem.

On Friday, the Sun rises at 6:02am and sets at 7:47pm. The full Moon occurs at 1:24am on Friday. The full Moon that appears in April is called the Pink Moon. This name came from the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the early spring flowers. It is also known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and the Fish Moon. Early Colonial Americans used these names as they learned them from the local Native Americans. These names usually describe some activity done by those tribes during that time in their location as they used to track the time by observing the seasons and lunar months.

The Moon rises at 8:17pm on Friday, 9:13pm on Saturday, 10:09pm on Sunday.

Full Moon is out all night at the peak of this year’s Lyrid meteor shower. The annual Lyrid meteor shower is active each year from about April 16 to 25. This year the peak of this shower, which tends to come in a burst and usually last for less than a day, is expected to fall on the morning of April 22nd under the glaring light of the full Moon.

Mercury remains well-placed low in the west-northwest in twilight, but it’s fading fast.

On Sunday, around midnight watch Saturn and the red supergiant star Antares follow the waning gibbous Moon and Mars over the southeast horizon

Look high in the West for Pollux and Castor lined up early at night. The heads of the Gemini twins, Pollux and Castor, form the top of the Arch of Spring. The two ends of the Arch are Procyon to their lower left, and brighter Capella farther to their lower right.

Arcturus is the brightest star in the east. Spica shines to its lower right. To the right of Spica is the four-star constellation Corvus, the Crow of Spring. It is recognizable for its compact, boxy shape. In Greek mythology, Corvus was seen as the cupbearer to Apollo, god of the Sun.

Friday is the Earth Day. It is an annual event celebrated on April 22, on which day events worldwide are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It was first celebrated in 1970. While the Earth Day was first focused on the United States, it is now coordinated globally and celebrated by more than 193 countries each year. There are many ways to celebrate the Earth Day. You could plant a tree, make a meal with locally grown vegetables, clean up trash in the neighborhood, or save power.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, April 20th and Thursday, April 21st, 2016

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, April 20th and Thursday, April 21st written by Louis Suarato

The 99% illuminated, waxing gibbous Moon rises at 6:22 p.m. Wednesday. The Full Moon occurs at 1:24 a.m. Friday. April’s Full Moon was known as the Full Pink Moon by some northeastern Native American tribes. The reason being it’s the time for seeing moss pink, or wild ground phlox, one of Spring’s first flowers. The Farmer’s Almanac tells us that this month’s Full Moon is also known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and the Fish Moon. The Moon reaches apogee, its furthest distance from Earth during this lunar month, at 12:05 p.m. Thursday, 252,495 miles away. You can locate Virgo’s brightest star, Spica, 5 degrees below the Moon at 11 p.m. Wednesday. The Moon and star will move a degree closer through the night.

At sunset Wednesday, and Thursday, with the nearly Full Moon rising, Jupiter will appear approximately 50 degrees over the southeastern horizon. Mercury will be setting in the west at that time, about 14 degrees over the west-southwestern horizon. Look for the Pleiades star cluster about 8 degrees above Mercury. You’ll find the Beehive Cluster, or M44, to the west, between Jupiter and the heads of Gemini, Castor and Pollux. Mars rises in the constellation Scorpius at 10:50 p.m., followed by Saturn about a half hour later. The two planets are now separated by 8 degrees. Scorpius’ brightest star, Antares, and the globular cluster, M4, can be found 5 degrees below Mars, and can best be seen in the pre-dawn sky when the two planets, the red super-giant star, and globular star cluster are 20 to 24 degrees above the southern horizon.

If you would like the opportunity to meet other people interested in astronomy, the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will be holding their monthly meeting at miSci, in Schenectady, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. These meetings usually include a discussion of current astronomical events and/or answers to questions about telescopic equipment. Non-members are always welcome.

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.

Skywatch Line for Friday, April 1, through Sunday, April 3, 2016

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, April 1, through Sunday, April 3 written by Sam Salem

On Friday, the Sun rises at 6:37am and sets at 7:22pm. The moon rises at 2:46am Saturday, 3:31am Sunday, and 4:12am Monday.

Mercury climbs quickly into the western sky after its superior conjunction last month. This is the best evening apparition of Mercury for the year.

Venus is still bright in the dawn sky, but dropping toward the Sun.

Saturn and Mars, continue to move closer to each other in April. Mars spends most of the month in Ophiuchus. Mars rises around 23:54 on Friday and is visible the rest of the night. Saturn is retrograding in Ophiuchus, rising around 00:37 at midnight and will be visible all night.

Jupiter is easily visible in the evening following its opposition last month. It sets before sunrise around 5:53am. Jupiter is retrograding in Leo. The ancient and well-known constellation, Leo, is a Zodiac constellation, where the ecliptic passes through it. Leo is one of the 48 constellations listed by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century, but it dates back at leas a thousand years earlier to the Babylonians.

If you have a telescope, the most interesting star in Leo is the second one above Regulus, where the lion’s back joins onto his mane. The star is called Algieba, which means “the forehead” in Arabic. Algeiba is a double star, described as one of the finest double stars in the sky. However, it’s difficult for low power telescopes to resolve.

Arcturus, the bright Spring Star, shines just as high in the east as Sirius, the brighter Winter Star, does in the southwest. The Big Dipper, high in the northeast, points its curving handle lower right down toward it.
Arcturus forms the pointy end of a long, narrow kite asterism formed by the brightest stars of Bootes, the Cowherd. The head of the kite, at the far left, is bent slightly upward.

Friday, at 8 p.m., the Dudley Observatory will host a lecture and star party at the Octagonal Barn in Delanson, NY. The evening’s lecture will be “The Astrophysics of Time Travel“ by Dr. Matthew Szydagis of SUNY Albany. The star party will be held, weather permitting, after the lecture. Directions to the Octagonal Barn can be found at

The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will be hosting their first star parties of the year this Friday and Saturday nights at the Landis Arboretum at 8:00pm. Star Parties are cancelled if the skies are mostly cloudy. Please call the Frenches at 518-374-8460 if you are unsure. Directions to the Landis Arboretum can be found at

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, March 21st and 22nd, 2016

This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, March 21st and 22nd.

The Sun sets at 7:09 PM; night falls at 8:45. Dawn breaks at 5:19 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 6:43.

The twilight sky contains Jupiter and a nearly “Full” Moon.

The Moon rises just before sunset and remains up the rest of the night. Monday night finds the Moon only two degrees from Jupiter. Both sit by the hind leg of Leo, the Lion. Tuesday sees the Moon migrated to Virgo. Although the Moon turns officially “Full” on Wednesday morning, the Moon is for all practical purposes “Full” all Tuesday night. The Moon sets at sunrise Tuesday morning, and at 7 AM on Wednesday.

Jupiter, as mentioned, lies by Leo’s hind leg. Jupiter, the Moon and the star Sigma Leonis form a neat triangle, visible in binoculars. As mentioned last week, this is the “season” for “double shadow transits.” Monday night, at 11:43 PM, the Jovian moon Europa begins to cross Jupiter’s face with its shadow trailing. Another Jovian satellite, Io, begins its transit at 11:56 PM, followed by its shadow at 12:15 AM on Tuesday. The two moons and their shadows cross Jupiter until they exit by 3:11 AM, Tuesday. Several more double shadow transits occur this month.

Mars rises in Scorpius at 12:24 AM. The Red Planet daily becomes brighter and larger in our telescopes. Its distinctive color makes finding it in the Scorpion’s head easy. Last week, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) celebrated its 10th year photographing the Martian terrain. Over the decade, the MRO changed both scientific and popular views of Mars. Once thought dead and lifeless, the MRO demonstrated that Mars has varied surface features and good evidence for at least some subsurface water. It also serves as a relay for signals to Earth from the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers.

Saturn rises about an hour after Mars and is located in the dim constellation Ophiuchus.  Saturn is slightly dimmer than Mars, which is eleven degrees away. Can you tell the difference? Saturn is best observed about 5 AM, when it is highest before Dawn begins. Its famous rings are still tilted to maximum for our enjoyment.

Since Jupiter and Saturn are visible simultaneously, comparisons are in order. Both are gas giants – planets composed mostly of gas. Jupiter is larger; Saturn is about a third of Jupiter’s mass. In telescopes, Jupiter’s colored bands signify very active weather systems; one storm, the Great Red Spot, has been continuously observed for centuries. Saturn’s weather appears more subdued, with occasional faint features. Saturn’s   ring system is easily visible from Earth; Jupiter’s rings are observable only from space-borne telescopes. Both planets’ 120 moons account for most of the Solar System total. Four of Jupiter’s moons appear in binoculars, while Saturn’s satellites can only be spotted through a telescope. Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active moon in the Solar System; while Europa, Ganymede and Callisto may conceal oceans beneath their icy surfaces. Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan are geologically active, spurting ice fountains. Titan is the only moon to have an atmosphere; its atmosphere contains cold methane, rather than oxygen. Titan also has vast lakes of liquid methane on its surface.