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.