Our Current Sky

Our Current Sky

our-current-skiesWhat’s Up in Southwest Florida’s April Skies: Lyrid Meteors Peak April 22 and Beautiful Venus

[NOTE: A Total Solar Eclipse will cross the United States on August 21, 2017.  Here in Fort Myers, FL, we are not along the path of totality, so we will see a partial eclipse. A full-country Eclipse 2017 USA map is here (opens in new tab).  An alternative map with local times is here (opens in new tab).]

At the very start of this month, all five classically-visible planets are again visible between dusk and dawn.  But Mercury will be invisible again by mid-month.

At the start of the month, Mercury is that bright dot above the WNW horizon just after sunset. Unfortunately, this month is a VERY small “greatest eastern elongation” for Mercury, it only reaches 19 degrees from the Sun in Earth’s sky before it turns back toward the Sun again! And once it “turns the corner” and heads back toward the Sun, we will be seeing the dark side more than the illuminated side, so we will lose it from our evening sky by the 12th, and it will stay “missing” showing us its dark side and close to the Sun until early May.

After nightfall, Mars is the planet to watch above our western horizon as it slowly (night-by-night) ascends through Taurus, and turning around to face East will show you Jupiter, which is basically very bright (reaches opposition April 7th and its closest approach to Earth April 8th!) and is with us all night long, not far from the bluish-white star Spica in Virgo. On April 10th, the nearly-full moon will make a small triangle with Jupiter and Spica – a nice sight all night long!  In general, by midnight, Jupiter is high above the southern horizon and around 1 a.m. Saturn rises in the southeast (that’s at month’s start – it rises 4 minutes earlier each night, though!).

Venus has joined the pre-dawn planet lineup and will be brightening and getting a little higher into the sky above the sunrise each day, so that before dawn you will be able to see brilliant Venus in the East, low above the horizon, Saturn high above your southern horizon, and Jupiter beside Spica above the western horizon, making a nice golden-and-blue color contrast, for most of this month. On the morning of Sunday, April 23rd, the thinnest crescent moon will be close to Venus low in the East around 6 a.m. — the morning before and the morning after, it will be farther from Venus, to the West and then to the East, respectively.

Nights of April 21st, 22nd and 23rd: Lyrid meteor shower: moon is almost completely dark (last waning crescent), so the Lyrids may really put on a show high in the sky after midnight!

Moon phases this month:

  • April 3rd, 2:39 pm: 1st Quarter
  • April 11th, 2:08 am: Full
  • April 19th 5:56 am: 3rd Quarter
  • April 26th 8:16 am: New

Heather Preston, Planetarium Director, Calusa Nature Center Planetarium, Fort Myers, FL

Astronomy News Bulletins:

Calvin College professor Larry Molnar and his students along with colleagues from Apache Point Observatory (Karen Kinemuchi) and the University of Wyoming (Henry Kobulnicky) are predicting a change to the night sky that will be visible to the naked eye.

“It’s a one-in-a-million chance that you can predict an explosion,” Molnar said of his bold prognostication. “It’s never been done before.”

Molnar’s prediction is that a binary star (two stars orbiting each other) he is monitoring will merge and explode in 2022, give or take a year; at which time the star will increase its brightness ten thousand fold, becoming one of the brighter stars in the heavens for a time. The star will be visible as part of the constellation Cygnus, and will add a star to the recognizable Northern Cross star pattern.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2017-01-astronomers-explosion-night-sky.html

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Get in on the Pro-Am Comet Observing Action! Remember, the campaign starts later THIS MONTH: https://astronomynow.com/2016/11/24/worldwide-pro-am-help-sought-for-comet-trio-study/. The actual page with details is at the Planetary Sciences Institute, here: http://www.psi.edu/41P45P46P

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017 Astronomy News Bulletin:

Jan 25th update from (opens in new tab) EarthSky.org:  An asteroid designated 2017 BX – found just days ago, on January 20 – passed between the Earth and moon on late Tuesday night according to clocks in the Americas. The asteroid’s closest approach was 11:45 EST on January 24, 2017 (04:45 UTC on January 25). It came within 0.68 lunar distances, or about 162,252 miles (261,120 km). Slooh broadcast a show about this asteroid last night, which you can see in the video above. Slooh said that asteroid 2017 BX has been nicknamed “Rerun” in honor of the beloved, late actor Fred Berry.


Useful Sites for Backyard Astronomers…

Here is an off-site excellent summary (opens in new page) of night sky observables this month…

The International Space Station is visible some nights, and is very bright! For specific visibility direction, greatest altitude, and time at your location: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/sightings/

The Hubble Space Telescope is visible some nights.  For specific times and routes: http://www.heavens-above.com/