Monday evening April 15th the ‘Red Planet’ Mars will be near the open star cluster the Hyades – a v-shaped pattern of stars making up the face of Taurus the Bull. Mars will also be about 5o from the ‘eye’ of the Bull, the reddish star Aldebaran. Both the Hyades and Mars will easily fit within the field of view of 7×50 binoculars, and should prove to be an interesting sight. Compare the 1.50 apparent magnitude of Mars with the brighter 0.90 apparent magnitude for Aldebaran.
Sunday evening April 14th the 10-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be about 5o from the star Regulus, the ‘heart’ of Leo the Lion. Both the Moon and Regulus will easily fit within the field of view of 7×50 binoculars.
Friday April 12th the first quarter Moon will be within 6-7o from the star Pollux in the constellation of the Gemini Twins and will more or less fit within the field of view of 7X50 binoculars.
On Thursday April 11th Mercury, the innermost planet, will reach its orbital position known as greatest western elongation at 28.0o. At that moment Mercury, the Sun, and the Earth, would be arranged in something close to approximating a right angle as this graphic shows. Even though it sounds confusing at western elongation for either Mercury or Venus the inner planet will be to the right of the Sun as we view them, meaning that at western elongation an inner planet rises in the east before the Sun rises. And at eastern elongation with the inner planet on the left side of the Sun the inner planet follows the Sun across the sky setting after the Sun sets.
From our perspective the orbits of Mercury and Venus appear to move from one side of the Sun to the other – out to the left (east) from the Sun to eastern elongation, then reverse and move westward (inferior conjunction) between the Earth and the Sun to western elongation. From there the inner planet moves eastward going behind the Sun (superior conjunction) and eventually reappearing on the eastern side of the Sun for an eastern elongation. Repeat over and over – do not stop!
Mercury is visible in the morning skies just before sunrise local time, as this graphic shows. Venus is to the west from Mercury and further west are the giant outer planets Saturn and Jupiter. Considerably fainter and requiring optical assistance is another giant outer planet, Neptune. And completing the morning planet line-up is Dwarf Planet Ceres.
April 12th 1961 Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to leave the surface of the Earth and orbit our planet. Coincidentally 20 years later, on the same date in 1981 the United States launched its first space shuttle, the Columbia.
However April 12th is a date for celebrating the accomplishments of the Russian space program and the cosmonaut who became the first to orbit the Earth. So, on April 12th people around the world will take part in local events in what is known as Yuri’s Night. Use the link to the Yuri’s Night web site to learn more about this event and to see if there is a Yuri’s Night event in your area.
8 years ago during the 50th anniversary I had an opportunity to work with a group of musicians (Dark Matter) in producing a series of videos about the solar system and our home planet that were then projected as full-dome videos on a Planetarium dome ceiling. Accompanying the videos were two musicians playing their respective instruments (Flute and Clarinet) along with electronic notes, live sampling of their music, and sounds of the interior of a spacecraft. Below is a version of that performance that was entered into a worldwide contest – placed in the top five by the way.
Please excuse the quality of the video graphics – a result of my video abilities and state of video editing capabilities ‘way back then’.
Friday April 12th the 7-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving north relative to the ecliptic. This is known as the ascending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path has with the ecliptic. The ecliptic is actually the Earth’s orbit and the Moon’s orbit is inclined about 6o from the ecliptic. So there are two node intersections, the ascending and descending nodes.
On the day of the node crossing the 7-day old first quarter Moon rises around mid-day and sets the following day.
Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as many graphics show? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*
This year is the 75th anniversary for the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association), and this graphic helps to celebrate the event by highlighting Alphecca Gemma, the brightest star in the constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. This star is 75 light years distant and so the light you see coming from that star left Alphecca Gemma the year that NSTA started.
The date of April 12th was chosen because during this week Science Teachers and other educators will gather in St. Louis, MO for our annual conference. See you there?
Read this very informative article about the Earth-Moon system and their orbital motions, written by Joe Hanson. “Do We Orbit the Moon?”
The Sun is now displaying a rather large sunspot. It started appearing April 8th, and the following morning the sunspot was even more obvious. These pictures were taken with a Cannon Rebel EOS T7i with a Thousand Oaks Optical Solar Filter. This type of filter is a ‘visible light’ solar filter that makes it safe to look at, and take pictures of the Sun. In order to see flares, prominences and other features typically shown in solar images requires special filters. Among the more popular for ‘amateur use is a Hydrogen-alpha filter telescope.
Camera settings for all pictures: 300 mm; f/32;/ ISO-6400; 1/60 sec .