Astronomy news for the week starting Friday, April 27, 2012.
We start off our new week with the Moon
in its fat waxing crescent state as it
approaches first quarter the morning of
Sunday, April 29, with the Moon securely out of sight. It then
waxes in its gibbous phase until it
reaches its fullness around midnight (give
or take) the night of Saturday, May 5. Look the night of Monday
the 30th to see the waxing gibbous Moon making a fine triangle with
Leo's Regulus to the north and bright
reddish Mars to the
northeast. The night of Thursday the 3rd sees our companion
Jupiter's gone, but Venus sure isn't. Though beginning to slip downward (as
seen at the same time each night), it's still up until after 11 PM.
Reaching it's maximum brilliancy (minus fifth magnitude!) for this
round the night of Sunday the 29th, it's being taken for an
aircraft or UFO, especially with its eerie light shining through
the local trees. It will thereafter rapidly disappear from view
and be gone by the end of May only to reappear during summer in the
morning sky after transiting across the Sun the night of
June 5. A view through the telescope reveals Venus's current and
quite lovely crescent as it approaches
Earth (as it now presents mostly its nighttime side).
Still shining at magnitude zero, Mars then takes over the sky, the
red planet crossing the meridian
during evening twilight still to the east of Regulus. Giving you
a long time to find it, Mars is up until around 3:30 AM. Dimmer,
but still prominent, Saturn glows brightly well to the southeast of
Mars and to the northeast of Spica, the two stars and two planets
making a fine sight under a clear sky. Having just passed
opposition with the Sun, the ringed planet transits the meridian
around midnight Daylight Time, and does not set until morning
twilight lights the sky.
We celebrate an astronomical "holiday" this week, May Day (May 1),
or Mayday Eve, a "cross-quarter day" that marks the halfway point
between the beginning of spring and the start of summer.
As the mid-evening sky darkens look nearly overhead to spot the Big Dipper of Ursa Major. It's at the top of a stack of constellations that includes prominent
Leo (with Mars) to the south. Below Leo lies the faint triangle
that marks Sextans (the
Sextant) and then the stream that makes up Hydra (the Water Serpent), Hydra's Head lying to the southwest of Regulus. Then
after a long fall, far to the south we encounter the stars of Vela, the Sails, which power the great
Ship of the Argonauts.