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April’s night sky – What’s worth seeing

Dear friends of astronomy, we firstly want to express our hope that all of you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. Even though we find ourselves in these dire circuimstances, it’s not all doom and gloom. We might not be able to engage in many of our daily activities, and many of us have had our travel plans disripted, but let’s use this as an opportunity to take a trip to our solar system and beyond. After all, staying at home doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy many of the things we love.

Looking at the night sky can be a great way to appreciate how small we really are compared to the vast universe, and how obstacles that currently seem insurmountable are only temporary. In this (maybe not so) short article we’ll try and take you on a journey through April’s night sky, highliting what’s worth observing and what you should absolutely not miss!

The moon and the Supermoon

The moon is currently in its first quarter. That means that the sun lights half of it up. After sunset, we can observe the moon near zenith (i.e. directly above us). During this phase, we are provided with a good opportunity to look at some of the moon’s craters, as this is easier when we don’t have a full moon. On the 8th of April we are not only going to have a full moon but it will also be a Supermoon! As the moon will be on the point of its elliptical orbit that is nearest to Earth (perigee) it will appear slightly larger and brighter than usual, hence the term Supermoon.

The middle star on the “handle” of the “pan” is in reality a double star, two stars very close to each other

Stars and Constellations

The countless stars we can see on the night sky are essientially other suns in our galaxy. Because they are very far from us, we can only see them as these small points of light on the sky. Constellations are just groups of stars that people have named through the ages. We are going to focus on the main constellations and stars we can see from our backyards.

The Big Dipper (Ursa Major) points to polaris
This is perhaps the best known constellation. It features the characteristic “pan” shape, and in April it appears on the northern part of the sky after sunset.
A challenge for keen observers: The star in the middle of the “handle” of the “pan” is actually 2 stars; Mizar (the bigger one) and Alkor (the smaller one). See if you can distinguish them (either with the naked eye or using a telescope or a pair of binoculars)!
Fun fact: In ancient times, they used this as an eye test. If you could distinguish those 2 stars with the naked eye, it meant that you had good eyesight!
How to find polaris: We take the imaginary line that connects the two stars of the bottom of the pan (Merak and Phecda) and extend it a distance about 5 times larger than the distance of those 2 stars. That line now points to Polaris. Polaris is the only star that is always on the same position on the celestial sphere and it points due north.

Orion, it’s spectacular nebula and Venus among the Pleiades

Orion and its spectacular nebula
April is the last month during which we can see the constellation of Orion. Of course, it won’t be visible for the whole of the night as it sets about 3 hours after sunset. If we were to draw a line connecting Orion’s stars, a human-like figure is formed. This figure also appears to be holding a bow, and that’s why in ancient times they called this constellation Orion, who according to greek mythology was a giant huntsman. Taking a closer look to the constellation we can identify Orion’s “belt”, comprised of 3 stars that are close to each other. The brightest star in the consellation (and the 7th brightest star in the night sky) is Rigel, which has a characteristic blue colour. The second brightest star is called Betelguese and unlike Rigel, Betelguese features an orange colour. This star is nearing the end of its life and is what’s called a Red Supergiant.
The Great Orion Nebula (M42): In relatively dark skies a “smudge” can be seen below Orion’s belt. This smudge is the Great Orion Nebula. Using a telescope we can see this nebula is all it’s glory. This might be a challenge for people with small telescopes, but it’s certainly doable!
Tip: A general rule of thumb is that the higher an object is on the sky, the better we can observe it (this is due to atmospheric conditions and light pollution).

Friday 3/4/2020: Venus travelling through the Pleiades

Taurus and the Pleaides            
The constellation of Taurus (latin for Bull) is slightly above Orion. The bright orange star in it is called Aldebaran and is the eye of this mythical bull.
Challenge: Using the picture for guidance you can find the Pleiades (M45), an open cluster of young stars. With the naked eye you can see 7 stars that are densely packed. If you own a telescope you will be able to see many more stars in the cluster.        

DON’T MISS: Friday 03/04/2020                   
You will be able to observe (and photograph if you want) the close encounter of Venus with the Pleiades. You will even be able to see this with the unaided eye, though venus being this bright might make it hard for you to also see the pleiades. Venus and the Pleiades only meet once every 8 years!

The Planets

It’s important to be able to recocnise the planets and distinguish them from stars. Out of the 8 planets of our solar system, 5 of the are visible with the bare eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Staturn. The other two, Uranus and Nepture are visible only using a telescope.

Mercury is hard to see. Located in the eastern sky, it sets quickly in the morning twilight.              

Right after sunset we can see Venus in the western sky. It’s the brightest and most impressive celestial object that is currently visible. It sets about 4 hours after the sun does. Refer to the animation above to see it travelling through the pleiades.

Mars rises around 4:00 in the morning. We can find it among the constellation of Capricornus.

It rises around 3:00 in the morning and it’s currently located in the constellation of Sagittarius.

It rises around 3:30 in the morning and it’s currently also located in the constellation of Capricornus, close to Mars.

Finally, we would like to mention that our online shop is operating normally, and we deliver all orders to your house for free. If you have any questions, about finding objects on the sky, or using your equipment, you can call us on 25253580 or email us at [email protected].

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