EYES ON THE NIGHT SKY: APRIL 2020
Welcome to this special edition of Eyes on the Night Sky…at home. As we all work together to stop the spread of Covid-19 by respecting the current laws of not making any unnecessary journeys, we will show you what you can see from the comfort of your own garden. The good news is, there is plenty to see with the unaided eyes, binoculars and telescopes. Grab a drink, pull up a garden chair and enjoy those night skies, as the fresh air is beneficial to health and gazing at a starry, night sky can increase your wellbeing.
As you may notice, your home skies may be a little brighter due to man-made light pollution from street and domestic lighting so we will not be focussing on distant galaxies or nebula this month, although some can be seen from home, depending on how dark your skies are. You might want to take the opportunity to explore how you can reduce light pollution in your area by reading these articles:
International Space Station Flyovers
The International Space Station orbits the Earth 16 times a day and there are times when you can see it gracefully sail across the sky as a bright point of light. This month, there are three, early evening opportunities to see it which are:
Rises at 20:47 on 2nd April in the W and sets at 20:52 in the SSE
Rises at 21:37 on 3rd April in the SW and sets at 21:40 in the SW
Rises at 20:49 on 4th April in the W and sets at 20:54 in the SSE
Here’s a video to give you an idea of what to look out for:
Credit: Sam Price
The next full moon will occur on Wednesday, April 8 and is known as the ‘Full Pink Moon’. Grab a drink, get into the garden and watch it rise into the evening sky – it’s truly a beautiful sight as the Moon looms huge, low on the horizon. There is no scientific reason why this happens; ancient astronomers thought the atmosphere acted like a lens. The size of the Moon appears to be larger on the horizon and smaller as it rises but it is actually a trick of your imagination! To prove this statement, find a piece of paper and some tape, roll the paper up into a tube that is the same circumference as the Moon as it rises. Wait until the Moon rises higher in the sky and look through the tube again to compare sizes – you will discover it is exactly the same!
If you have a telescope, there are plenty of great Moon atlas apps to look out for. Even if you don’t want to get to know the name of every crater, enjoy the play of light and shadows along the terminator of the Moon, which is the line where the sunlight shining on the moon meets the shadow. Use high magnification to really tease out the detail – it will really feel like you are traveling over the surface of the Moon!
Venus behind thin cloud, creating a halo. Credit: Sam Price
Look out for beautiful Venus as it shines brightly in the sky every evening throughout April, becoming brighter towards the end of the month. It is the first star to appear in the western sky.
There is a rare event that will occur on 3rd April, where the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) passes very close to the planet – this only happens once every eight years and can be enjoyed from around 8pm, when darkness has fallen. You can enjoy the conjunction (close pass) of the two from 1st-4th April. If you have a telescope, use it to see Venus in waning gibbous phase, appearing as a crescent, just like our Moon. Use binoculars to try and see Venus and the Pleiades (Seven Sisters).
Constellation of the Month - Ursa major
Ursa Major (the Great Bear) is our Constellation of the Month! Also known as the ‘Big Dipper’, this constellation can be easily seen throughout the spring months. Look for a celestial saucepan with a handle which is the main body and tail of the Great Bear – and in darker skies you may be able to spot the legs and head of this animal.
Roman mythology places Ursa Major as Callisto who was turned into a bear by Jupiter’s wife, Juno, after she discovered Callisto had a son by Jupiter. In her jealousy, she turned Callisto and her son Arcas into bears: Callsito being the greater bear, Ursa Major and Arcas the smaller bear, Ursa Minor.
For the kids…
If you are looking for resources for your home schooling, look no further! All these suggestions require little or no resources:
If your young ones like art, there is a space themed drawing prize competition:
Celestron drawing competition
Learn about which plants are suitable for growing in space as a good source of nutrition for astronauts:
Use this resource to learn about the Apollo missions:
Starchitect is a free astronomy education game about stellar and planetary evolution. Here you can create different types of stars, then add planets, and even try for life:
Print out these lovely space themed sheets to colour in! (Credit: Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith)