Hi sky pals and colleagues.
It’s time to look at April.
First, what’s in the sky for this month.
© Submitted photo
Members of the Athena Community Astronomy Club at Briarcliffe doing some stargazing on a clear starry night. They’re hoping to enjoy similar conditions following the presentation Sunday evening at Eptek Centre in Summerside, so everyone has a chance to look through a telescope.
There is a meteor shower this month but not all that important for us as: a) it’s a weak shower which is usually less than 20 per hour, and b) the waning crescent moon will be in the way. But if you should wish to try, it’s the Lyrid meteor shower and one can watch in the early hours of April 22.
Next, a total eclipse of the moon – a lunar eclipse. This will be on the night of April 14-15, which is Monday – Tuesday, so you’ll likely not be very good for work on Tuesday, because it occurs in the wee hours of the morning – ouch! The partial eclipse will begin at 2:58 a.m. and the total eclipse at 4:06 a.m. The greatest eclipse will be at 4:46 a.m. and the moon will be setting and dawn on the scene soon as the total eclipse ends at 5:25 a.m. We should at least hope for no clouds and good weather.
Jupiter still dominates the sky all this month. High in the southwestern sky at dusk, it sets about four hours after sunset.
Saturn – the other major planet in the sky, rises about five hours after sunset in the southeast and is highest and brightest after midnight at the start of the month.
Mars is visible from dusk to dawn. To see this ruddy planet, look east-southeast about an hour after dusk.
Venus rises a little before dawn low in the east-southeast and is probably the only planet worth seeing, although one should note that Mars is just setting in the west-southwest.
Now – a story.
We’ll go back to the late 1700s. Charles Messier was an astronomer of the time and part of his passion was to search for new comets. Using his telescope – small and primitive by today’s standards – he would search for dim, fuzzy “blobs”, and would be elated when he found a new one. But comets typically move a little in the sky from night to night, and to Messier’s disappointment, some of these objects did not shift their place in the sky and thus were not comets.
Messier did not want others to repeat his errors, and so he compiled a list of objects for other astronomers to avoid if they were looking for comets. This has become known as the Messier list.
Today we have much better ways of detecting and recognizing comets, but the Messier list has become a famous list for amateur astronomers to search for, and “collect,” as others collect stamps or coins. There are 110 objects in this list and there’s even a Messier challenge, where astronomers try and collect all the objects in one night – which can only be done at about the time of Vernal Equinox (the first day of spring). It’s harder than it might seem, as clouds can get in the way, some of the objects are hard to find, and over the course of the night, it gets bloody cold out there. But we all remember Charles because of this.
Well that’s it for another month.
See you next month.