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The Sky This Week, 2014 April 15 - 21

Missed the eclipse? Don't worry, here's three more chances.

 Mars near opposition, 2014 April 13, 03:38 UT

The Moon wanes in the morning sky this week, diving down to the southern reaches of the ecliptic where she mingles with the rising summer constellations.  Last Quarter occurs on the 22nd at 3:52 am Eastern Daylight Time.  Luna passes just one degree south of Saturn in the pre-dawn hours of the 17th.  On the following morning she will be about seven degrees north of the bright reddish star Antares.  On the 20th she is well to the north of the “teapot” asterism formed by the brightest stars in the constellation of Sagittarius, the archer. 

Most of us in the eastern U.S. got skunked by the weather for the total lunar eclipse, but reports from colleagues under clear skies reported it to be a very nice one with Luna glowing a gradient of hues ranging from brass to deep red.  This was the first of a series of four total lunar eclipses that will all occur in sequence with no partial or penumbral eclipses in between.  We’ll get a chance to see parts of all four between now and October of 2015.  The next one will fall on the morning of October 8, 2014 beginning at around 5:15 am EDT when the Moon will be in the western sky.  Totality begins at 6:24 am, with mid-eclipse occurring half an hour later.  The Moon will then set as the Sun rises at 7:16 am.  After that, mark April 4, 2015 on your calendar.  The Moon will start to slip into the Earth’s shadow at 6:15 am EDT.  Unfortunately Luna sets just 40 minutes later, so this eclipse will not be much of a show for the eastern part of the country.  However, we like to save the best for last.  On September 28, 2015 we’ll have a splendid eclipse that takes place in “prime time”, with the umbral phases lasting from 9:07 pm EDT until shortly after midnight.  That’s the one I’ll be waiting for!

By the end of the week we’ll be starting the April observing campaign for the “Globe At Night” citizen-science program.  To get ready for this use the evening skies this week to locate the constellation of Leo, the Lion, which is high on the meridian to the south at 10:00 pm.  The main stars of Leo form two asterisms.  The first is often called “The Sickle” and is anchored by the constellation’s brightest star Regulus.  Moving upward from Regulus you’ll run into a beautiful gold-tinted star, Algieba.  Binoculars show the color of this star very nicely, and a small telescope will split it into two close yellow components.  Where The Sickle represents the Lion’s head, his hindquarters are formed by a small right triangle just to the east.  Get to know these stars for the next few months; they will be the targets for star counts for Globe At Night.

Jupiter is now lowering in the western sky at the end of evening twilight.  You should still have no trouble picking him out in the sky, but each successive night sends him creeping a little lower toward the horizon haze.  He still sets well after midnight, but your window to get a good telescopic look at him while he’s still relatively high now ends at around 11:00 pm.

Mars is eager to take over for Jupiter as the evening’s “go-to” planet.  His reddish tint is hard to miss in the eastern sky as the Sun sets, and by the late evening he’s high in the south, about 10 degrees northwest of the bright star Spica.  The red planet slowly begins to recede from us, but his 15-arcsecond disc will reveal tantalizing surface features for owners of modest telescopes.  Spend some time observing him and feel the presence of some of the world’s greatest astronomers of old, who tried to tease out the nature of the surface of this distant world from the far-flung shores of Earth.

You’ll find Saturn low in the southeast during the late night and early morning hours.  His golden glow waits patiently for Mars to play out the brightest part of his apparition and crosses the meridian at around 2:30 am.  In another month he’ll reach opposition, and you’ll have another target to keep you up late at the eyepiece.

You will still find bright Venus in the dawn twilight hugging the southeast horizon.  The dazzling planet is slowly working her way northward along the ecliptic, and is currently passing through the dim autumnal constellation of Aquarius. 


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