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 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 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 http://dudleyobservatory.org/directions/.

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 http://dudleyobservatory.org/AAAA/directions/.