The constellation Taurus hosts photo ops with Venus and the moon this month. Each evening, watch as Venus creeps up on the open star cluster known as the Pleiades or Messier 45(M45) in central Taurus.
This 100-million-year-old cluster of nearly 500 hot young stars is a tiny jewel box of six bright stars in the shape of a tiny dipper. This cluster is also known as the Seven Sisters and according to myths are the daughters of Atlas. You know the guy who could lift up the world?
But wait, if you can only see six stars, why is it called the Seven Sisters? The missing seventh Pleiad is a wonderful ancient mystery with many suggestions for this apparent discrepancy.
On April 3, Venus will become the most brilliant seventh Sister for one night. Look over from Alcyone, to see dazzling Venus. Better views of Venus and the Pleaides will come on April 2 on the approach and April 4 on the escape.
On April 3, Venus will be so bright its glare will mask the eastern half of the Pleaides. Use your binoculars or scope to spot the stars of the Pleaides.
Grab your binoculars or telescope to enjoy Venus and M45 on all three evenings. As you gaze at Venus and M45, consider that Venus is but five light minutes away, while the Pleaides is about 430 light years from Earth. In miles that’s 59 million for Venus and 2,400 trillion to the Pleaides.
If you miss this brief passage of Venus past the Pleaides you will have to wait until April 3, 2028 to see a repeat performance.
Venus will slowly sail away from the Pleaides as April progresses. Telescope observers will notice a slight bit of brightening and a gradual change in apparent illumination from a tiny half “moon” to a fat crescent by month’s end.
On April 25, an ultra-thin crescent moon will seem to sit atop the right horn of the Hyades star cluster in Taurus. Look about a moon-width above Epsilon Taurii to spot the very slender moon. Get out your camera to capture this celestial event.
Dawn PlanetsSunday morning, just before the dawn twilight, gaze to the southeast to spot three bright planets. Bright Jupiter will be on the right and dimmer Saturn and Mars will be on the left. Over the next three mornings, Mars will creep about a degree below Saturn. Mars will continue its slow trek eastward all month.
By May, Mars will be more than 19 degrees from Saturn. On April 15, an old crescent moon joins the trio of planets for a nice photo op.
Mercury concludes a morning apparition by the end of the first week of April. Look tomorrow morning toward the east-southeast to spot Mercury in the bright twilight dawn. Each morning, Mercury slips a bit closer to the glare of the sunrise.
Before mid-month Mercury is lost in the rising sun.
A Super Moon and a Meteor ShowerA few times each year, the full moon is close to the o. These close or perigee full mons are commonly called super moons.
The full moon of April is the nearest full moon to Earth for 2020, a scant 222,022 miles. A close or perigee full moon looks a bit larger and a bit brighter than the more distant full moons of the year. Hence the label of super moon.
Watch the night of April 7 to see our best super moon this year. Officially, the moon is full at 11:08 a.m. on April 7 and reaches perigee on April 7 at 7:35 p.m. Enjoy the first full moon of spring.
April also brings the first major meteor shower in several months. Enjoy the Lyrids Meteor Shower on the night of April 21/22. This shower is best observed after midnight (April 22) when the radiant or apparent origin of the shower is high enough to see up to 20 meteors per hour. The moon will be absent, so set up the lawn chair, bundle up and enjoy the show.
Morgan Observatory at UCC (PMO)Morgan Observatory has discontinued public and school gatherings this spring. A decision will be made in May whether to cancel summer on site programs at the observatory. The previously scheduled Last Friday Moon Watch with Umpqua Astronomers is canceled until July 31. Please consult the Morgan Observatory website at www.umpqua.edu/observatory for the latest information.
The Solar Systems Walk 2020 will not be held as planned in May. Both the school and the general public walks are canceled.
Umpqua Astronomers Meetings canceledUmpqua Astronomers will not hold monthly meetings for the foreseeable future. However, local astronomers and the interested public can join a virtual meeting monthly on Zoom.
New meeting time is 6:30 p.m. on April 14.