The constellation Coma Berenices, or Berenice’s Hair, is midway up in the eastern sky at 10 pm this week, between the tail of Leo the Lion and kite-shaped Boötes. It is the only constellation with a mythological tale based on a real person. In the fourth century BC, King Ptolemy Soter of Egypt went to war against Assyria. His worried wife Berenice made a vow to the goddess Aphrodite that she would sacrifice her beautiful locks if he returned safely. He did return and she kept her vow against his wishes. When he visited the temple the next day he discovered the hair had been stolen, and he threatened to kill the temple priests. The court astronomer claimed that Zeus had taken the hair and placed it in the sky for all to admire, and that night he showed Ptolemy a cluster of stars.
The Coma Star Cluster, also called Melotte 111, can be seen with the naked eye in rural areas, and fills the field of view in binoculars. At one time it was considered to be the tuft of Leo’s tail. The area of sky encompassed by Coma Berenices and its surrounding constellations is called the Realm of the Galaxies. The galactic north pole lies within this constellation, perpendicular to the dusty disc of our Milky Way Galaxy. When we look in this direction the paucity of interstellar dust allows us to see deeper into space and observe other galaxies many dozens of light years away.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:50 am and sunset will occur at 7:54 pm, giving 13 hours, 4minutes of daylight (6:55 am and 7:58 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:37 am and set at 8:03 pm, giving 13 hours, 26 minutes of daylight (6:43 am and 8:07 pm in Saint John).
A very slim crescent Moon will appear in the west after sunset this weekend, looking like a smile in the sky with the cusps or horns pointing almost straight up. It is at first quarter next Friday and is near the Beehive star cluster in Cancer the following evening. Jupiter and Saturn dominate the morning sky until Venus rises an hour before the Sun comes up. Jupiter is stationary on Wednesday, beginning its four-month long westward movement against the stars. Mercury is at its greatest elongation from the Sun on Thursday, about a binocular width to the lower left of Venus. Mars continues its slide between the Pleaides and Hyades star clusters in the evening sky all week.
The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on Saturday, April 6 at 7 pm, and the RASC NB provincial astronomy club meets in the same location at 1 pm on the following Saturday. Also, club members will be having a public observing event in Hampton at the Dutch Point Road entrance to the park on Friday, April 12 at sunset, with a cloud date of April 13. All are welcome.
Questions? Contact Curt Nason at firstname.lastname@example.org.