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Urban observing April 2014 April 1, 2014

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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Special Events

After a few months without much in the way of special events, April brings several things.

Eclipses

The biggest event of the month is probably the lunar eclipse on April 15. Unfortunately, here in Michigan, the eclipse begins at roughly 2 AM and finishes around 5:00 with totality starting a little after 3 AM and ending around 4 AM. Still, if it happens to be clear where you are, it’s worth going out and taking a look. This is the first of a series of four eclipses, about six months apart, all visible from continental US. For maps and information on visibility from your area, check out the eclipse page from NASA: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OH2014.html#LE2014Apr15T

Of course those familiar with eclipses know that a solar eclipse generally falls two weeks before or two weeks after a lunar eclipse. Unfortunately in this case the solar eclipse is only an annular, and is best visible from Australia and Antarctica. More information from NASA: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OH2014.html#SE2014Apr29A

Meteor Showers

The location of Lyra, and several other constellations, at 3:30 AM on April 22.

The constellation of Lyra is high in the east at 3:30 AM on April 22. The Lyrid meteors appear to come from this constellation, but will be visible across most of the sky.

April also brings a return of meteor showers. The Lyrids are active from April 16 through the 25th. The peak should be the morning of the 22nd, but any morning three days before or after that should bring a good number of meteors. Lyrids are known for producing bright dust trails that may last for several minutes, however a waning Moon will interfere with your ability to see these. Check the American Meteor Society articles on meteor showers the week before for predictions.

Mars Opposition

Mars is at opposition on April 8. That means it will rise at sunset and remain out all night. A few days later, on April 14, it reaches “closest approach”, when the distance between Mars and Earth is smallest. So pull out the telescopes and have a look. You’ll have to wait a year and a half before it happens again.

Planets

Practiced observers with binoculars might be able to catch the planet Mercury in the predawn skies at the start of the month. However, it will be a tough catch is it skims the horizon just before dawn. It reaches superior conjunction on the 26th, and returns to the evening skies in May.

6:30 AM on April 11. Neptune is just below Venus.

6:30 AM on April 11. Neptune is just below Venus.

Venus is just about as far west of the sun as it ever gets on April 1. This makes this whole month of excellent time for viewing it in the morning. It is in fact that incredibly bright thing in the East an hour or even two before sunrise. Late in the month it will dim quickly as it heads toward conjunction. Those with a small telescope can use it to find Neptune between the 10th and 13th. Neptune passes just below and to the right of Venus during those days. A nice crescent Moon joins Venus on April 25.

Mars and Porrima on April 25 at 10 PM.

Mars and Porrima on April 25 at 10 PM.

Mars is visible to both morning and evening observers this month. Look for it in the constellation of Virgo. It’s very near the Moon on the night of the eclipse. At the end of the month it is very close to the double star Porrima in Virgo. The distance between the two stars varies  noticeably over a few years. Unfortunately, right now they are very close to each other, so they won’t be distinguishable without a relatively large telescope until 2020.

The brightest thing in the winter skies continues to be Jupiter. It continues its retrograde motion through Gemini for most of the month, pausing and returning to prograde in the last week. Of course it’s now spring, so the best time to observe the winter constellations is before 10 or 11 PM. Orion sets a little after nine at the end of the month, and Jupiter follows not long after.  A thin quarter Moon makes a close pass on April 6, providing a nice opportunity for astrophotos without a telescope.

Saturn technically returns to the evening skies this month, rising at about 11:15 on April 1. the waning crescent moon passes very close on April 17.

Deep Sky Objects

If you have a small telescope, an April evening is a lovely time to put it to use. Early in the evening, many of the winter objects are still out. The Pleiades and the Hyades are naked eye objects, but a small telescope reveals hundreds of individual stars. If you like open clusters, M44 and M47 are also well worth a look. And of course, don’t forget M42, the Orion nebula.

10 PM on April 6, facing west

10 PM on April 6, facing west

Turning our gaze eastward, especially at the end of the month, reveals several globular clusters. These include M13, the Great Cluster in  Hercules, and M92 a great cluster on it’s own if it wasn’t so close to M13. M3 and M5 are also worth a look if your skies are dark enough.

10 PM on April 25, looking east.

10 PM on April 25, looking east.

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