What’s Up?

Updated April 11, 2019

Nowadays the near First Quarter Moon is passing through Gemini, high in the western sky as it gets dark. Below these is Taurus the Bull with Mars to the right of the bright star Aldebaran. Compare the colors and brightness of the two objects and note how they change configuration slowly as the days and weeks pass. Mars passes less than 7 degrees from Aldebaran between April 11 and 18. Taurus and Gemini are two of the “winter constellations” that are slowly sinking towards the western horizon as April wears on. The bright constellations Orion and Canis Major shine from the Southwest as they also get lower in the sky. Arcturus is the bright spring star is climbing in the eastern sky at the end of twilight and is the second brightest star in the mid-northern skies. Capella, low in the northwest, is the third brightest star currently in the sky. The Winter Hexagon is visible in the southwestern and western skies and includes the bright stars Sirius, Procyon, Pollux and Castor, Capella, then back to Aldebaran, and Rigel before returning to Sirius.

The Big Dipper is high in the northern sky as darkness falls. There are three pairs of faint, naked eye stars crossing the zenith at this time. The are all 3rd or 4th magnitude and they mark the feet of the Great Bear, Ursa Major. Also as it gets dark, the bowl of the faint Little Dipper extends straight to the right of Polaris then up to the bowl. The end stars of the Little Dipper’s bowl point toward the end stars of the Big Dipper’s handle. The rest of the Spring constellations are high in the eastern sky at nightfall; these include Leo, Virgo, Bootes, and smaller constellations. Hydra stretches all the way across the southern horizon from its head relatively high in the southwest to its tail going behind the southeast. This is the largest officially recognized constellation in the entire sky.

The stars of summer are just starting to make their appearance in the eastern sky late evening. Vega rises in the northeast these evenings. The Summer Triangle is completely up by 2 am local time. By this time, Jupiter is the bright “star” low in the southeastern sky. It leads a string of planets that adorn the morning sky. By just before dawn Jupiter is just west of south, with Saturn not far behind it. They lie in the summer constellations of Scorpius and Sagittarius, respectively. Venus appears low in the eastern sky at dawn’s early light, with Mercury visible just below and left of the bright planet.

Go to https://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/sky-at-a-glance/this-weeks-sky-at-a-glance-april-5-13/ where you will find the current “Sky at a Glance” (currently for the week ending April 13). There are lots of links to interesting news stories and additional observing projects for those who are interested.

Last January’s total lunar eclipse featured a meteor impact flash seen and imaged widely. This event took place just as totality was getting started. One of the many imagers, Nicolas Lefaudeux, posted his images to his website. These images feature realistic views of recent total lunar eclipses as well as the meteor impact flash and other types of images. A nice montage of the total lunar eclipse was assembled by Doug Holland, it can be viewed at this website.

Due to construction of the observatory addition we have not been able to do any further work on the solar observatory telescope. Once this project is complete, the Prairie View Observatory Complex will house 3 domes, including the existing Solar Observatory, and two new domes. For updates on this progress check out https://www.pvamu.edu/pvso/cosmic-corner/project-summary-2/. Also, more information and images about the expansion (along with the existing Solar Observatory) at https://sites.google.com/view/saganti-astro/home. The two new domes will house our Meade 16-inch advanced telescope and a new 0.6 meter (24-inch) PlaneWave Corrected Dall-Kirkham telescope. The design features these two domes situated east and west of a visitor’s center, which is immediately north of the existing Solar Observatory. First light for the new observatory could happen as early as Spring 2019. Keep checking back for updates.

Juno, the spacecraft, continues to send back spectacular images. You can find them at https://earthsky.org/space/juno-spacecraft-image-nov-2018-eichstadt-doran and  https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam/processing?ob_from=&ob_to=&phases%5B%5D=PERIJOVE+15&perpage=16. Juno has been approved to continue orbiting Jupiter until at least July 2021.  For more information about this mission in general visit www.nasa.gov/juno. You can also visit http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/juno-jupiter/index.html which has some additional interesting facts about the mission.