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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