More Clouds (this seems to be a monthly thing).
Ok, if the clouds should happen to depart for a while (and here’s Kendal’s Met check to see if and when they might), here’s a brief roundup of what might be visible in the skies this month, including the stuff I was gazing at last night just as the clouds rolled in:
The Lyrid meteor storm will occur on the 22/23rd of April, sending out roughly 15 meteors an hour from the constellation Lyra. Lyrids are linked to the Comet Thatcher and are pretty reliable in that a steady flow of around the same number of meteors happens every year. The best time will be between 1-2am on the morning of the 23rd, looking towards the East. A slender crescent Moon means little natural light pollution will interfere with the storm this year.
The Moon will be occulting the Pleiades this month at 21:31UT on the 26th of April.
Jupiter remains poorly placed for observing, rising shortly before dawn. Mars is similarly stricken through the month. Venus, although brighter in the Dawn sky, will also be rising shortly before the Sun during the month. Within the past few days, Venus passed between the Earth and the Sun (leading some to take pictures of Venus in its new phases during the daytime) and so has transferred from dusk to dawn.
Saturn remains well placed for observation, presently appearing just below the constellation of Leo, rising in the evenning. It is an obvious bright dot below Leo by the naked eye, a yellow disc with a slender line through it through a telescope. This slender line, once the great rings of Saturn, will continue to thin and thin as Saturn approaches the point in its orbit where the rings will be edge on to the Earth. The rings, the moon Titan and some bands should be visible through even a small telescope – though a fast one like mine does wash out the bands.
Mercury reaches greatest elongation on the 26th of April. This puts it at its furthest distance from the Sun, making it available for viewing. On that day, it should be visible for a couple of hours after the Sun has set, and for the few days either side of that date, it will still be visible for an hour or so.
A few things outside the solar system
In the lower part of the constellation of Gemini lies a Cepheid variable star, which alters its luminosity from 3.6 to 4.2 magnitudes, over ten or so days. To the lower right of Gemini is the Eskimo nebula.
The constellation of Leo provides not only a colourful sickle of different stars, but also (between its body and the planet Saturn) two galaxies of magnitude 8.9 and 9.3, M66 and M65, respectively. Further to the West, a magnitude 9.2 and 9.7 pair of galaxies – M96 and M95. A final galaxy can be found by following the sickle to wear the point should be and using the two stars along the point, head down to find the magnitude 8.9 galaxy NGC 2903.
The pinwheel and whirlpool galaxies as well as the owl nebula are all available to see this month in and around the Big Dipper, which soon rises overhead after sunset.
The Usual Stuff
If you want to watch satellites flaring or passing in the sky (even sometimes during the day), then go to Heavens Above to get times and directions. If you need assistance in deciding where things are in the sky, why not install the free program Stellarium, which does all the work for you? Finally, to avoid the dreaded clouds, Met Check gives a quick forecast and the Met satellites or other satellites can be used to track breaks in the cloud, if you are truly determine to catch that comet (or even the moon at this rate)…
As part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, the Eddington Society will be laying to rest the memory of the Venus and Saturn watches with a public observing event – Moon Watch, on Friday the 3rd from 7:30pm at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal. This is round the corner from my place, so I may even be sticking my telescope in the mud with the rest of them. Either way, I’ll be there.
The Spring MoonWatch has begun (which is why our event above is being held), lasting until the 5th of April. This is one of a couple of weeks when the Moon is in a favourable position for detail to be seen on the surface. Too close to new Moon and there’s nothing lit up, too close to the full Moon and there’s no shadow to bring out detail. As part of the International Year of Astronomy and the telescopes for schools initiative, the Society for Popular Astronomy has organised these country-wide watches to give everyone the chance to see… well… probably clouds. The date of the Eddington Society MoonWatch also coincides with the 100 Hours of Astronomy event, wherebye public observing will be carried out all over the planet during these hundred hours – from top observatories to guy on the pavement with a telescope. Go to the website to view “Around the world in 80 telescopes” and the 24 hour live observatories on the 3-4th of April. There may be cloud above us but somewhere in the world has to have a clear sky.