Evan Hazard/Northland Stargazing: Spring stars, planets and a lunar eclipse
If skies are clear at dusk sometime this weekend or in early April, find a spot away from outdoor lighting and with a clear view of the sky in most directions. Above the SW horizon is a bright star. In fact, it is our brightest true star, Sirius, significantly larger than Sol and is only nine light years away. Like the other stars near the western horizon, it will be leaving us soon. By April 10 or so, Mars, well up in the SE, will be as bright as Sirius.
We will also soon be bidding farewell to Orion, Taurus, the Pleiades, and Perseus. Cassiopeia, not far from Perseus, will not leave. It’s close enough to Polaris to be a circumpolar constellation, always visible on clear dark nights this far north, moving eastward above the northern horizon. It is now astronomical spring, and Virgo (with bright Spica), Boötes (with even brighter Arcturus), Corona Borealis, and Hercules are all up in the east.
Saturn will not rise until 10:30 p.m. or later on April Fool’s, but around 8:30 by May Day. The brightest “star” in the evening sky is the planet Jupiter, just west of Castor and Pollux in Gemini. Venus rises before dawn and is bright enough to spot even in the predawn twilight. Mercury is on the far side of Sol and not worth looking for.
Most of North America will be able to view Luna in full eclipse from beginning to end late at night April 14-15. For us, the show begins after midnight, and Luna is in full eclipse from 2:07 a.m.- 3:25 a.m. But sometime around 1:30, Earth’s full shadow will cover about half of full Luna. In a column in 2006, after I’d finished Raki’s saga, I wrote:
“After publishing the first installment, I remembered a minor epiphany I had decades back while driving home at sunset from Lake Pimushe. South of Conway’s Resort, a half moon rose over a sumac clone to the east. But wait: only full moons rise at sunset! Then I recalled that a lunar eclipse was due, and realized I was seeing Earth’s shadow half-covering Luna. I hadn’t thought about it much since then, but now Raki came along, took it from me, combined it with her earlier knowledge, and had a major Copernican epiphany.”
That time, Luna had just risen in the east at sunset. This time Luna will be well above the SE horizon in the early a.m. I will be in bed.
Algol is too low in the NW at dusk to observe its minima. If want to know its minima in the wee hours, go to http://www.nightskyinfo.com/sky_highlights/algol/ , a site giving the minima in 24-hour mode, where 1911 = 7:11 p.m., and in UT (Greenwich Standard Time). Subtract 5 hours to get CDT.
Evan Hazard, a retired BSU biology professor, also writes Threescore and Ten for the Pioneer’s Prime Time.