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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Look At The Sky - April

(Time lapse over Mt. Rainier)

The Planets for APRIL:

Mercury - Mercury reaches its "greatest eastern elongation" on the first of April and is located about as high in western skies over the horizon as you will see it, yet still embedded in strong twilight.  If you are able to pick it up in a telescope, it will appear to be a thin "crescent" phase since it is only 28% illuminated as we see it from Earth - in ARIES

Venus - our brightest planet will rise about an hour ahead of strong twilight at mid-month, but will continue moving slowly westward in the sky each morning and will attain a higher altitude against the eastern horizon as our "morning star" by month's end - in PISCES.

Mars - Mars is very low in west and now distant....not a good telescopic object, and sets about 10 p.m. local time; although its reddish color and brightness (mag. 1.5) are obvious and allow for easy location of this red planet, it is not worth observing this month, with an angular diameter of less than 4" arc and at a great distance from Earth.  - in TAURUS

Jupiter - Now overhead around midnight and in the sky all night long, Jupiter rises in the east shortly before sunset, is nearly overhead at midnight and sets in the west about the time morning dawn breaks.  This is a very favorable time to view Jupiter since it is brightest and closest to Earth during March, April and May; NOTE that Jupiter is at opposition on the evening of April 7 - in VIRGO

Saturn - Very low in southern skies and rising midnight. local time, the ringed planet will be placed very low in southern skies throughout its 2017 apparition - in SAGITTARIUS

Uranus - distant planet Uranus is in conjunction with the sun this month and will not be will be later in early summer before it emerges in dawn twilight in the east - in PISCES

Neptune - Our most distant world other than of Pluto, is now rising about an hour before twilight in the east; at magnitude 7.8, it is visible in small telescopes as a star-like object with little or no detail visible - in AQUARIUS

Pluto - at magnitude 14.2, our most distant planet ( is a planet) will begin to be visible higher in eastern skies this month, just east of the "teapot" in Sagittarius and east of brilliant yellow Saturn to its west.  - in SAGITTARIUS

NOTE:  for locating all of the faint planets I highly recommend a good computer planetarium program or a suitable Sky APP for your smart devices!

Meteor Showers for April 2017

Observe when the moon does not interfere and attempt to observe AFTER midnight for most meteors to be seen!  For April, there are no less than NINE meteor showers, some of which provide for wonderful spring sky shows, provided that the light of the moon does not interfere.  However, as with a months and times during the year, observers should always be aware that new sporadic meteor showers can occur at anytime from seemingly unknown sources and radiants.  NOTE:  one of the most interesting of all meteor showers is the odd “April Fireballs” (see below) which occur this month.

April 4 - Kappa Serpentid Meteors - This is a one-week-duration meteor shower, from April 1 through 7, with somewhat of a mild peak about midway through that period; look for the radiant to rise in the constellation of Serpens about 8 p.m. local time just south of due east and be nearly overhead for observers in southern latitudes of the northern hemisphere at about 2 a.m.  Several meteors per hour should be seen from this minor radiant in normal years, and this year is fair since the moon will be about first quarter; observe early in the month and wait until moonset before midnight.

April 7 - Delta Draconid Meteors - With no particular peak to speak of, this is one of those “circumpolar” meteor showers for northern hemisphere observers that will be in the sky pretty much all night; it is a very long duration shower from late March until about April 17.  Found only in 1971 in the constellation of Draco, the meteors are conspicuously slow and leave very fine trains in their wakes; to view the most meteors from this now-annual shower, set up about 10 p.m. local time and face somewhat northeast; as the night progresses the meteors will be originating more and more from very high northern skies....thus after midnight direct your sights to nearly directly overhead, the ZENITH.  Note that the moon, slightly less than full and very bright before midnight will hamper observations during the early hours of the night

April 10 -Viginid Meteors - This is the first of THREE meteor showers which appear to emanate from the constellation of VIRGO during the month of April each year.  A two-week display, the meteors can be seen coming from just south of overhead (northern hemisphere) from April 1 through 15 with no definite peak; to differentiate THIS shower from the other two, the radiant is centered at near right ascension 12h 24m / declination 00 degrees.  This year the moon is full and its light will interfere all night, so this will be an unfavorable year for this meteor shower..

April 14 - THE APRIL FIREBALLS - Doc's Favorite of All Meteor Showers.....Not a particularly good year for this interesting shower in early morning hours because the strong gibbous moon will be in the sky until shortly before dawn....., but then again being bright fireballs, these can be seen in spite of even city lights!   As its name suggests, this can sometimes be a pretty spectacular display if the conditions are right and the skies are dark; however, during times of the new moon - as it was in 2010 - , these huge and bright fireballs come streaking clearly across our crisp and clear springtime skies along with countless fainter meteors that are associated with no identified meteor swarm.  This unusual display lasts for the last two full weeks of April....there is no known radiant or seeming point of origin for this curious group, and they can be seen originating from just about any part of the dark night sky.  They likewise are not - or appear to not be - associated with any other known major or minor meteor shower group.  The April Fireballs are characterized by tremendously bright meteors, nearly all of which demonstrate beautiful and long-lasting trails through the sky.   Even with the bright moon however, with their brightness, the light should not interfere for observing these very spectacular meteors.  Always look for the April Fireballs late in the night, preferably after midnight.   NOTE:  several of these renegade meteors have been known to reach the ground as meteorites!  Heads UP!

April 17 - Sigma Leonid Meteors - The Sigma Leonids are no longer “in” Leo....they have migrated it seems into Virgo to become one of our three Virgo showers for April.  The radiant is up early, just due south of overhead about 9:30 p.m. local time; this is a minor shower with only a few members seen on dark nights per hour.  The last quarter moon will be absent from the sky until about midnight  so it should not interfere with early observations of this shower

April 22 - The Lyrid Meteor Shower - Other than some spectacular fireworks from the April Fireballs (see above), this is April’s most dependable meteor showers and typically one of the best of each year; this year the morning crescent moon will not interfere with any observing of meteors after midnight, typically the best time to view the greatest number of Lyrids.  This shower is comprised of cometary debris from Comet Thatcher, a very famous comet last seen in 1861.  Although this associated comet was not identified until only 100 or so years ago, this meteor shower from its demise is one of the oldest known on record, being recorded by the ancient Chinese stargazers first in 687 B.C.  As with many meteor showers - and the comets they come from - this one seems to be waning with every encounter with the earth however.  It is no longer the sky spectacle as recorded by those earliest sky watchers.  Look for the meteors to emanate from a point on the Hercules-Lyra border, very near the brilliant blue-white star Vega.  The radiant rises about 7:30 p.m. local time, but the best time to see the most meteors each year is always around midnight when the radiant is nearly directly overhead at midnight for northern hemisphere observers.

April 25 Mu Virginid Meteors - This is our third of three meteor showers within the constellation of Virgo for the month of April, and is south of overhead about 1 a.m. local time, far in the eastern realms of the large Virgo constellation; it takes dark, moonless skies to see the few  - only about 7 per hour - meteors from this annual minor display.  The moon will not interfere with this month's observation of this meteor shower.

April 23 - Grigg-Skjellerup Meteors - Here is an oddity just by its name...the only annual meteor shower known by the comet from which the meteoroid cloud came!  It also is unique in that it is a “localized” meteor shower, visible only in certain parts of the world, but not others, on each pass.  For example, there was a brilliant display of these meteors seen in New Zealand in 1977....but not one in the United States.  If visible, they will be seen early in the evening, originating south of overhead.  At right ascension 07h 48m / declination -45 degrees, these will appear to be coming literally from the south horizon for northern hemisphere observers, perhaps the only way to differentiate them from the other meteors showers in the same direction of sky each April.  This year is a great year for this unusual meteor shower since the moon will not interfere with your dark skies!

April 28 - Alpha Bootid Meteors - Coming from a point very near the bright “alpha star” Capella in the constellation of Bootes, this radiant is in the sky from dusk until dawn, and nearly overhead at about 1 a.m.  Look for these meteors to be few, BUT those that are seen are typically very fine fireballs moving slowly across the sky and leaving beautiful “smoky trails” behind them.  Observers will NOT be hampered by moonlight for this shower in 2017 - the radiant rises about 3-4 hours after sunset, and the moon will be absent from the sky at that time.

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