ursa major

ursa major

Tonight's Sky - Highlights of the April sky

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Tonight's Sky: April 2014 Your guide to constellations, deep-sky objects, planets and events, Tonight's Sky, Highlights of the April Sky Evening Planets As night falls, Jupiter hangs over the western horizon. The planet's dark bands appear in the sights of a telescope. Above the eastern horizon lies Mars, a red beacon in the darkening skies. It will be up all night long. On April 8th, Mars reaches opposition, meaning it is opposite the Sun in Earth's sky. It is at its closest to Earth, making it appear slightly bigger and brighter. Saturn rises after dark, joining Mars to grace the southeastern sky. A telescope reveals the planet's famous rings. On April 16th, Saturn and the Moon will be close companions as they rise together in the evening and travel across the sky throughout the night. Constellations and Deep-Sky Objects Late in the evening, high in the northern sky lies the Great Bear, Ursa Major. The constellation of Ursa Major contains the well-known star pattern, the Big Dipper. It resembles a large drinking cup with a handle. The two stars that make up the front side of the cup are called "pointer stars" because they point toward the star Polaris, also known as the North Star. The Big Dipper overflows with interesting stars and deep-sky objects. The stars Mizar and Alcor make up a double-star system that can be seen without a telescope. In ancient times, when Mizar and Alcor were even closer together, they were used as a test of keen eyesight. M81 and M82 are a magnificent pair of galaxies, showpieces of the northern night sky. M82 has an irregular shape, bestowed by a collision with its larger neighbor, M81. Turning to the south, we see Leo, the Lion, heralding the coming of spring. In Greek mythology, Leo is the great beast slain by Hercules. The star Denebola, which in Arabic means "tail," represents exactly that. The bright star Regulus is the heart of the Lion. Leo has several galaxies in his belly. M65, M66, and NGC 3628 make up the "Leo Triplet," a lovely grouping of galaxies easily seen with a telescope. Close by is another group. M95 and M96 are large spiral galaxies. Between the Big Dipper and the head of Leo are three pairs of bright stars known to ancient Arab astronomers as "The Three Leaps of the Gazelle." Morning Planets Before sunrise, look for Saturn and Mars in the western sky. Use a telescope to get a better look. A clear view to the low eastern horizon will reveal Venus, rising just before the Sun. Use a telescope to see what phase Venus is in. Events The Lyrid meteor shower will be best seen in the early morning hours of April 22nd. Expect to see up to 20 bright meteors per hour after midnight. On April 15th, a total lunar eclipse will be visible throughout much of North America, South America, and Australia. The Moon will darken as it passes through Earth's shadow. On April 29th, an annular solar eclipse will be visible from Antarctica. Skywatchers in Australia and southern Indonesia will see a partial solar eclipse. Ending The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard. Credits Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute, Office of Public Outreach Starfield images created with Stellarium Mythological constellation forms from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory Jupiter image courtesy of Todd Gross Mars image courtesy of Matt Wedel Saturn image courtesy of John Endreson M81 and M82 image courtesy of the Digitized Sky Survey, AURA Leo Triplet image courtesy of REU program/NOAO/ AURA/NSF M95 and M96 image courtesy of the Digitized Sky Survey, AURA Venus image courtesy of Mario Weigand Annular solar eclipse image sequence courtesy of Larry Hubble and Leo Heppner Partial solar eclipse image courtesy of Franklin A. Holub Narrated by Nancy Calo Music...