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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, April 21 – April 28

Sometimes I like to go tooling around in twilight with binoculars, picking off the bright stars as they emerge or even before they are visible to the naked eye. This time of year you can nab seven of the ten brightest in twilight and maybe another four of the next ten. Toward the southwest, Sirius, the brightest star of the night sky, might be the first you see, possibly flashing colours as our atmosphere acts like a prism for starlight. Next stop is lower to the west for #7, Rigel in Orion’s knee, which sets just an hour and a half after the Sun. Orange Betelgeuse, #10, will be well above it with the three belt stars in between.

Less than a hand span to the lower right of Betelgeuse is orange Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the Bull and wearing lucky #13. See if you can pick out the Pleiades about two binocular widths to its right. This star cluster can be entertaining when it is low, with numerous stars twinkling like a Christmas tree. High above is #6 Capella, which often takes on a yellowish hue. Also fairly high is #9 Procyon, forming the peak of an equilateral triangle with Sirius and Betelgeuse. To its upper right is #16 Pollux, the brighter of the Gemini Twins.

Before heading east for more stars have a look at Venus to the right of Aldebaran. It is much brighter than the stars and can be seen easily with binoculars before sunset. Then, head eastward for #4 Arcturus at about the same altitude as Capella. How does its colour compare with that of Capella? Look for almost equally bright #5 Vega low in the northeast, although the thicker atmosphere at that altitude will rob some of its brightness. To its lower left you will eventually catch #20 Deneb, and #14 Spica shines in the southeast to the lower right of Arcturus. Regulus, between Spica and Pollux, comes in at #21. Happy star hunting.

This Week in the Solar System

The lunar X. Image credit: Emile Cormier

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:22 am and sunset will occur at 8:14 pm, giving 13 hours, 52 minutes of daylight (6:28 am and 8:17 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:10 am and set at 8:23 pm, giving 14 hours, 13 minutes of daylight (6:17 am and 8:26 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at first quarter Sunday, possibly yielding a view of the Lunar X with a telescope in late afternoon or evening twilight. Look just within the shadow line a little below centre. On Tuesday, late afternoon, you might able to see the star Regulus to the right of the Moon with a scope. Venus outshines the bright stars of winter in the western sky after sunset, while Jupiter, Saturn and Mars offer great viewing in the morning sky. On Sunday evening look for a few meteors coming from between the constellations of Lyra and Hercules, as the Lyrid shower peaks in the afternoon.

If the sky is clear this weekend, look for amateur astronomers offering views of the sky for Astronomy Day.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason at nasonc@nbnet.nb.ca.

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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, April 14 – April 21

In April we can start a long goodbye with the winter constellations.

Orion and Taurus are setting together, which makes it easier to imagine their eternal battle. The bull is protecting the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) from the amorous advances of Orion, who is about to strike a downward blow to the bull’s head with his upraised club. The bull’s long horns, one tip of which is the bottom left star of Auriga (Elnath officially the second brightest star of Taurus), are not to be taken lightly. It is difficult to tell which of the two combatants is more keratinous.

The Pleiades star cluster. Image credit: NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatory

The winter constellations of Auriga and Gemini are still up past midnight but Rigel, in the knee of Orion and the low point of the Winter Circlet of bright stars, is setting by 9 pm. Sometimes these constellations are enhanced with planets, since Taurus and Gemini are part of the ecliptic. By next weekend Venus will have crossed the constellation border from Aries into Taurus to appear within a binocular width below the Pleiades. And you will need binoculars to see the Pleiades. I have a pleasant memory of seeing them with binoculars when they were low in the west in twilight. Shining through a thicker layer of our atmosphere, the stars were flickering wildly like candles in a breeze. I had the urge to make a wish and blow them out.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:34 am and sunset will occur at 8:05 pm, giving 13 hours, 31 minutes of daylight (6:40 am and 8:08 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:22 am and set at 8:14 pm, giving 13 hours, 52 minutes of daylight (6:28 am and 8:17 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Sunday, leading into Dark Sky Week and International Astronomy Week. A less than 24 hour Moon might be seen with binoculars as a very slim crescent after sunset on Monday evening. On Tuesday evening it is near Venus, and it is waxing throughout the week for public observing events. Jupiter rises around 10 pm this week but still offers great viewing in the morning sky. Saturn is stationary on Tuesday, beginning five months of westward retrograde motion relative to the stars. Mars is getting brighter now as Earth is slowly catching up in orbit, and it will continue to do so until late July when we will be treated to its best opposition in 15 years.

During Astronomy Week amateur astronomers tend to set up their telescopes for public observing if the sky is clear. If you see one, stop and have a look.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason at nasonc@nbnet.nb.ca.

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