Heads UP! for April 2014
During the night of April 14 – 15, you can see all the sunrises and sunset around the world in one night. After midnight on April 15th, we can see our Moon tinted red and blue by sunlight passing through the dust, clouds and ozone of Earth’s atmosphere at the moment of sunrise or sunset, as seen from the Moon. That’s a lunar eclipse, where the Earth blocks out the Sun and puts the Moon in the Earth’s shadow.
Unlike a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse can see be seen across half the world at once. This eclipse begins in the eastern daylight time zone at 1:58am before dawn on the 15th, and at the same time across the country, including in the pacific daylight time zone at 10:58pm on the 14th. If you get up for the start of the eclipse, watch for the stars around the Moon become more visible as the Moon darkens.
There is quite a collection of objects near the Moon in the sky that night, with Mars very noticeable nearby, Spica right next to the Moon and two asteroids, Ceres and Vesta, visible in binoculars nearby.
At maximum eclipse, at 3:46am, watch for the variation in light across the Moon as the southern part of the Moon is close to the edge of the earth’s shadow and will look brighter than the northern part of the Moon. The partial eclipse is over by 5:33am, and the sky begins to lighten with the Sun coming up at 6:16am in our area.
If you don’t want to get up ‘in the middle of the night’, set your alarm for a little before 4am and watch the second half of the eclipse, when the line of sunrises and sunsets will move across the Moon from 4:25am to 5:33am. The eclipsed Moon may be low enough in the southwestern sky to be seen from indoors, through a window. This ‘picture window’ eclipse allows viewing from the comfort of home.
Meanwhile, watch this month as the winter constellations, with all their bright stars, appear to rush for the exits, leaving our evening skies for the season, so look early after dark to see them. To take their places, Leo the lion and the Big Dipper head for the overhead this month.
This month is your best chance to view details on Mars. Crank the telescope’s power up as high as the shimmering atmosphere of the Earth will allow. The best nights are when the jet stream is not over your observing site. We pass closest to Mars on the 14th, and Mars is the closest planet to Earth this month, but still not the largest in apparent size.
Jupiter spends most of the evening higher in the sky than Mars, thanks to its location in the northern latitudes of the constellations. It’s 90 degrees away from the Sun in the sky, so when the shadows of its moons are on the planet, the moons are mostly off to one side, giving the view the appearance of depth.
Among the things you can’t see this month is an annular solar eclipse, visible in a small area of a remote part of Antarctica on the 27th. It’ll be a partial eclipse in Australia, if you are going ‘down under’ this month.
Mercury is too close to the Sun to see easily this month, passing in back of the Sun, from Earth’s point of view, on the 26th. Neptune and Uranus are deep in the glare of the Sun.
Venus sits patently waiting, low in the southeast, well to the right of where the Sun will rise. It’s half full (not the same as half-empty) at the start of the month. The phase is easiest to see in a telescope when the sky starts to brighten up.
Saturn, the ringed wonder is still highest in the sky in the wee hours of the morning. It’ll be more conveniently located in the evening sky in May, when it reaches opposition.
Look for Venus and the Moon posing together on the mornings of the 25th and 26th. The Moon also appears startlingly close to Saturn on the 17th.
The International Space Station is visible in dusk from the 4th through the 25th. The recent arrival of the Russian Soyuz capsule brought the station population back up to six. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata is the station commander, the first Japanese astronaut to command the international outpost.