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This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2021 April 10 – April 13

As the Sun is setting this week, Spica is rising in the east. This blue giant star is the brightest in the constellation Virgo the Maiden, and the 14th brightest star of the night sky. It is usually located by following the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle to Arcturus and driving a spike to Spica. With Arcturus in Boötes and Regulus (or dimmer Denebola) in Leo, it forms the Spring Triangle. If you toss in Cor Coroli in Canes Venatici, below the handle of the Big Dipper, you get the Spring Diamond.

Spica represents an ear of wheat in the hand of Virgo. In Greek mythology she was Demeter, the goddess of wheat or agriculture (Ceres in Roman mythology). The Sun passes through this constellation in harvest time and it is in the head of Virgo at the autumnal equinox. Virgo is the second largest of the 88 constellations in terms of area of sky, trailing only Hydra the Water Snake. Coincidentally, it also trails Hydra in the sky, which can be seen stretching below Leo. The constellation is home to 11 Messier objects, second to Sagittarius in this distinction, and all of them are galaxies. Included in this group is M87, the huge galaxy that had the image of its central black hole shadow released at this time two years ago.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:41 am and sunset will occur at 8:00 pm, giving 13 hours, 19 minutes of daylight (6:47 am and 8:04 pm in Saint John).  Next Saturday, the Sun will rise at 6:28 am and set at 8:09 pm, giving 13 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (6:35 am and 8:13 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new this Sunday, and with weather luck and binoculars a very slim 21 hour old crescent might be spotted after sunset Monday. Mars starts the week between horn tips of Taurus the Bull, and within two weeks it will have crossed the constellation border into Gemini. The borders are open in the night sky. Jupiter and Saturn are the attention grabbers in the morning sky. Mercury and Venus will be out of sight until late in the month when they pop up in the west after sunset.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm, and view archived shows, on YouTube at:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAEHfOWyL-kNH7dBVHK8spg

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

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2021 April 3 – April 10

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.

That cluster was the Coma Star Cluster, also called Melotte 111, which can be seen with the naked eye in rural areas and it 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 tens of millions of light years away. This relatively small constellation contains eight of the 110 Messier objects within its borders, including globular cluster M53 and M64, the Black Eye Galaxy.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 6:54 am and sunset will occur at 7:50 pm, giving 12 hours, 56 minutes of daylight (7:00 am and 7:55 pm in Saint John).  Next Saturday, the Sun will rise at 6:41 am and set at 8:00 pm, giving 13 hours, 19 minutes of daylight (6:47 am and 8:04 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter this Sunday, and it will pass below Saturn on Tuesday and below Jupiter on Wednesday. Mars continues to move eastward between the long horns of Taurus the Bull, setting around 1:30 am. By midweek, Jupiter is rising by 5 am, half an hour after Saturn. Mercury and Venus will be out of sight until late in the month when they pop up in the west after sunset. Dwarf planet Ceres is in solar conjunction on Wednesday. All of this week we have an opportunity to see the zodiacal light in a clear, dark western sky, approximately 45-90 minutes after sunset.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm, and view archived shows, on YouTube at:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAEHfOWyL-kNH7dBVHK8spg

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

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