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.

Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Friday, April 15, through Sunday, April 17, 2016

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, April 15, through Sunday, April 17, written by Sam Salem.

On Friday, the Sun rises at 6:15am and sets at 7:39pm. Look for the waxing gibbous Moon with 65% of its visible disk illuminated on Friday, increasing to 74% on Saturday, and 82% on Sunday night. The Moon sets at 2:58 am on Friday, 3:34 am on Saturday, 4:06 am on Sunday, and 4:36 am on Monday.

On Friday evening, the Moon forms a curving row with Regulus to its left and then Jupiter.  Look above the Moon after dusk, on Saturday, for Regulus, the bottom of the now-vertical Sickle of Leo.  Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation Leo.  On Sunday, watch as the Moon pays a visit to the brightest planet of the night, Jupiter, as both rise in the southern sky.

Mars begins its retrograde motion westward in the sky, on Sunday.  Mars will continue its backward march until June 30.  For a couple of months every two years, Mars changes the direction of its motion against the backdrop of fixed stars. This apparent reversal is due to the fact that Earth is orbiting closer to the sun than Mars and is moving faster on its orbital track. That means our planet periodically passes Mars, creating the illusion that it has changed course. Seen from Mars, Earth appears to be in retrograde during this time.

Mid-April Mars is 63,236,776 miles away from Earth.  Now is the time to start exploring Mars through the telescope.  It blazes highest in the south before the first light of dawn, to the right of dimmer Saturn and above Antares.  In a telescope Mars grows this week from 13 to 14 arc-seconds in diameter.   By the time of its opposition and closest approach in late May, Mars will triple in brightness and grow to 18.8 arc-seconds wide.

Saturn is also moving retrograde but at much slower speed than Mars.  The pair moves apart from each other then start to converge and pass each other on August 25.

By early dawn, Saturn and Mars stand in the south-southwest.  Saturn, Mars, and Antares form a triangle.  Saturn stands on the left, Mars stands on the right, and the fainter, Mars-colored Antares stands beneath Mars.  Antares is the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius.  It is often referred to as “the heart of the scorpion”.  Along with Aldebaran, Regulus, and Fomalhut, Antares comprises the group known as the “Royal Stars of Persia”.   They were regarded as the guardians of the sky during the time of the Ancient Persians.  Persians believed that the sky was divided into four districts with each district being guarded by one of the four Royal Stars.

Skywatch Line For Wednesday, April 6th and Thursday, April 7th, 2016

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line For Wednesday, April 6th and Thursday, April 7th written by Louis Suarato

Wednesday, just after sunset, you may be able to see Mercury about 10 degrees above the western horizon. Mercury will become more visible after its trek around the Sun, and now in the evening sky. After Mercury sets, the Pleiades star cluster sinks into the western horizon. In the east, Virgo is the first constellation to rise after sunset. You’ll find Jupiter above Virgo,and about 50 degrees above the southeastern horizon. A telescopic view of Jupiter will reveal its moon, Io, crossing the face of the planet from 9:52 p.m. to 12:07 a.m. Thursday. Io’s shadow follows its source from 10:32 p.m. to 12:47 a.m.,Thursday. Europa, the smallest of the Galilean satellites, and sixth largest moon in the solar system, hides behind Jupiter at 10:48 p.m.

Mars rises in Scorpius at 11:40 p.m., Wednesday, followed by Saturn at 15 minutes at past midnight. The red and ringed planets are separated by about 8.5 degrees. Watch Mars’ magnitude, and apparent size through a telescope, increase, as it approaches opposition in May. Saturn will reach opposition in June. Mars and Saturn form a triangle with Scorpius’ brightest star, Antares. To the upper right of Antares, you’ll find the globular cluster, M4. Discovered by Philippe Loys de Chéseaux in 1746 and catalogued by Charles Messier in 1764,M4 is approximately 7,200 light-years away. M4 contains some the earliest stars, some aged at 13 billion years, about 820 billion years after the origin of the universe.

The New Moon occurs at 7:24 a.m. Thursday. Lunar perigee occurs 6 hours later at 1:36 p.m., when the Moon will be 221,931 miles from Earth. Expect higher, and lower than normal tides during this time.

The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will be hosting a star party at Grafton Lakes State Park this Friday. If Friday night’s event is cancelled, it will be rescheduled for Saturday night. This weekend is also the time for the annual Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF), held at Rockland Community College. A wealth of knowledge can be obtained from experts and vendors about telescopes and related equipment. It would be a good opportunity to obtain a Sun-safe filter or telescope to view the transit of Mercury on May 9th.

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.

Skywatch Lecture, Friday, November 13, “Mars – The Wet Red Planet.”

Part of the miSci museum of innovation and science’s Science Festival

miSci’s 2nd Annual Science Festival!

miSci’s 2nd Annual Science Festival!

“Mars – The Wet Red Planet.”,  Dr. Valerie Rapson, Dudley Observatory Outreach Astronomer

Lecture 6 pm, Star Party 7-9 pm (weather permitting)

Valerie recently obtained a Ph.D. in Astrophysical Sciences and Technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she conducted research on how stars and planets form. She is a National Astronomy Ambassador, and has spent many years teaching people of all ages about the wonders of the Universe. Join Valerie as she discusses the recent news of liquid water on present-day Mars. Learn about the history of Martian exploration, the search for water and life, and the possibility of astronauts traveling to Mars in the future.


Admission to the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Lecture and Star Party is $10 per adult and $15 per family.

Senior Science Day, Monday, November 2, 2015

November Topic: Water on Mars!

marswholeThe Dudley Observatory at miSci is committed to lifelong learning and has created programming specifically designed for senior citizens! Come explore the museum on a quiet afternoon, then join the Dudley Observatory for an exciting astronomy lesson presented by our Outreach Astronomer, Dr. Valerie Rapson. Each day we will focus on a specific astronomy topic. Topics to be covered throughout the program include: Exploring our Solar System, NASA’s Great Observatories, Searching for alien life, Einstein’s theories explained, current space news, and more! No astronomy knowledge is necessary, just come and enjoy learning! All adults are welcome. Presentation will be given through powerpoint with large print font and videos will have captions when available.

First Monday of every month at miSci

Talk starts at 3pm

Cost: Senior Admission to miSci- $8.00 (for 65+), FREE for miSci members.
Regular adult admission is $9.50

Come early or stay after the lesson to enjoy the many exhibits miSci has to offer! The museum is open from 9 am – 5 pm.  You need not be a senior citizen to attend.