April 1, 2015

The Night Sky:
A New Evening Star And A Meteor Shower For April


March proved tough for astrophotography on Hatteras Island.  Much of it was cold and cloudy.  I can  remember only one or two clear nights, so much of my observing was done trying to see through a slightly overcast sky.   But I did get some very good views of the night skies!


April greets us with a new evening star. On April 1, the Sun sets at 7:23 p.m., and Arcturus rises at 7:37.  Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern half of the sky.  It should be pretty easy to find -- simply look for a bright star near the eastern horizon around 8 p.m.

If you are having trouble finding it, you can use the Big Dipper as a pointer.  Remember how you can use the two outer-most stars in the cup to point to Polaris, the north star?  Similarly, you can use the three handle stars to find Arcturus.  Mentally follow the arc formed by the first three stars in the handle --Aloth, Mizar, and Alkaid -- away from the cup about four times the apparent distance between the first and second stars.

 You will see a very bright star you might mistake for a planet.  That’s Arcturus.   It has a magnitude of   -0.4,  making it the fourth brightest star in the sky.  But two of the brighter stars are not visible on Hatteras Island.  They are too far south for us to see them!  That makes Sirius -- the brightest star in the night sky -- the only star in our night skies that is brighter then Arcturus.   If you have a good pair of binoculars or a telescope, take a closer look at Arcturus and you will discover it’s a binary star.

On the morning of April 4, we will experience a partial eclipse of the moon.  It will start about 5 a.m. and reach its maximum at 6:57.  Do not get up late thinking you’ll be able to enjoy the moon re-emerging from the sun’s shadow.  The moon sets at 7 a.m.  If you want to see the total lunar eclipse, try booking a flight to Hawaii!  Or you can wait until Sept. 27 to see a full lunar eclipse here on the Outer Banks.

On the night of April 22-23, this year’s Lyrids Meteor shower will be at its peak.  If we have clear skies, the waxing moon should provide good viewing conditions after midnight.  The shower will seem to originate near the constellation Lyra, which will be near the northeast horizon on April 22.  But you don't need to look to the northeast to see the shower.  It is pretty much spread over the entire night sky, so you can just spread a blanket, lie on your back and look up.

At its peak, you can expect to see about 15 shooting stars per hour.

Don’t forget to look for Saturn.  On April 1 it rises in the southeast at 11:30 p.m. By the end of the month, it will rise at 9:30 p.m.


Wikipedia defines a galaxy as a gravitationally bound system consisting of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas and dust, and dark matter.  Our solar system is part of the Milky Way galaxy.  The Milky Way contains about 200 billion (200,000,000,000) stars.  
Galaxies are categorized by their shape.  The three main types are elliptical, spirals, and irregulars.
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