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Youth Astronomy

WhatsUp_March_April_2015

What you will see on a clear night in

March-April 2015

Constellations/star groups: The Big Dipper (part of  Ursa Major) and Orion.

Double Stars: Alcor & Mizar

Cluster: The Pleiades

Solar System: Jupiter, Venus & The Moon

Special Events:
        Jupiter-Moon conjunctions on March 2, 29 & April 26
        Venus-Moon conjunction on March 22 and April 21

     

As winter gives way to spring, Orion is still the easiest constellation to find. Jupiter appears as a bright "star" left of (or above) Orion.


Orion

The most dramatic of all constellations, ORION THE HUNTER, is visible in the south-southwest with his 3-star belt around his waist. Upper left of his belt and lower right are his shoulders. Lower left and lower right are his feet.

Orion is a must-see night sky object. Hanging from the Hunter's belt is his sword. In fact, the sword is THE GREAT ORION NEBULA - the only star nursery that can be spotted with the naked eye.

This fuzzy star zone can be seen well with a pair of binoculars. A telescope will produce a fantastic close-up of new stars!

Orion is a good guidepost to other stars. That very bright star that you will spot lower left of the constellation is SIRIUS, the brightest star in the night sky.

With respect to other stars, Sirius is quite close to us; it is 9 light-years away, meaning that the pinpoint of light you see left the star in 2005.

By late April Orion will almost disappear as it heads west. Why is Orion relocating to different parts of the sky? Most constellations move from east to west as the Earth rotates around the Sun. Constellations such as Orion, which are well below the NORTH STAR, disappear below the horizon during a portion of the day.

Orion


Pleiades

PleiadesCan you see another fuzzy group of stars upper right of Orion? That's THE PLEIADES star cluster that looks similar to the bowl of the Big Dipper through binoculars. Even though you'll be able to pick out half a dozen stars, the Pleiades actually consist of about 500 stars!


Jupiter

By late February JUPITER appeared high overhead as a bright "star" During March and April, it will move to the west. The king of planets will continue to be more brilliant than the brightest star in winter, Sirius. By late April, Jupiter will be above the southwest horizon. If your view is obstructed by trees or houses, ask your parents to drive you to Wilmot Line, a road that branches off Erb St. just past the Waterloo landfill. From there you will have a clear view of the planet provided you arrive shortly after dark as the planet will sink quickly. Orion will be dramatic as well!

JUPITER, with a diameter 11 times than of Earth, is the giant of the solar system. It takes 12 years to orbit the Sun--about the same time you've been on the Earth! The fifth planet from the Sun is a huge gas ball of helium and hydrogen so big that its volume would contain 1,300 Earths.

Jupiter

This Photo of Jupiter shows its moons in different positions.

Are you aware there are about 150 moons in the solar system? Because of the powerful magnetic fields of the four gaseous planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) they have most of the moons. Since Jupiter has 65 moons, some observers refer to the giant planet as a mini solar system.

If you aim a telescope at Jupiter, you will spot the planet's four largest moons. Jupiter's remaining 61 moons are too small to be seen. Even though the four largest moons appear as tiny dots, they are about the same size as our Moon. They are always in a straight line because they are rotating around Jupiter.


Venus

VenusVENUS appears as very bright star (more so than Jupiter) in the west and will continue to do so during the spring months.

Our sister planet (size-wise) is the hottest planet in the solar system with a surface temperature hotter than Mercury: 500 deg. C. The second closest planet to the Sun is broiling hot because the surface is like a greenhouse, covered by clouds of deadly sulphuric acid, trapping in the Sun’s heat. Venus so hot that all of the robotic probes that have landed on the planet have burned up moments after landing!

Venus’s day is longer than its year! During its 225-day trip around the Sun, it hasn't quite rotated around once on its axis; it requires another 18 days. Venus is referred to as our sister planet since the two are similar in size.


The Big Dipper

Big DipperThe most popular group of stars is the BIG DIPPER. Look north and you'll spot the four-star bowl with its three-star handle.

The seven-star Big Dipper is in the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear). The Big Dipper is a well-known group of stars as it can be seen year-round. It never sets below the west because it is close to the NORTH STAR (POLARIS), making it a CIRCUMPOLAR grouping.

Most constellations are known as SEASONAL constellations because they are far from the North Star and slip beneath the western horizon after travelling for a few months across the night sky.


The Big Dipper can be used to find the North Star. First, find the bowl. Then draw an imaginary line up and beyond the two end stars of the bowl and you will see the North Star. Many people think that the North Star is the brightest star in the night sky. Not true! It's way down on the brightness scale at about 50.

The North Star (which remains in one spot year-round) is the lead star of the seven-star LITTLE DIPPER, which pours into the Big Dipper. But you have to be at a very dark site like a farm or a cottage away from city lights to make out the Little Dipper.

There is something unique about one of the seven stars of the Big Dipper. Look carefully at the second star from the end of the Dipper's handle and you'll spot a double star, ALCOR & MIZAR. The star duo is more definitive with binoculars or a telescope.


The Moon

Some astronomers say the most rewarding object in the night sky is the MOON.Between March 5-to-27 and between April 4-to-25, the Moon will display its early evening phases:

  • March 5 & April 4: full Moon.
  • March 24 & April 22: crescent Moon.
  • March 27 & April 25: first quarter Moon.
  • April 4: Partial Lunar eclipse Not visible from North America

The photo shows the Moon between crescent and first quarter.

Moon

Being the closest (and largest) celestial object, the Moon is not hard to find, especially when it's first quarter Moon and full Moon. Although a bit more difficult to spot, the crescent Moon is always in the west.

Craters and "seas" (the grey areas of the Moon) can be easily picked out with binoculars or a low power telescope. The secret to viewing the night sky with binoculars is to keep them as steady as possible: either mount them on a tripod or sit back in a lawn chair that has a tilted back.

Did you know that the craters were created by giant space rocks (asteroids) that slammed into the Moon billions of years ago? If the Moon had an atmosphere, the craters would have long eroded away from wind and water erosion like what happened here on Earth. But because there is no atmosphere on the Moon, the craters have not changed ever since they were formed.

The Moon's craters and mountains are most dramatic if you look near the terminator, the line that separates the dark side from the sunlit side. That's because the shadows created by the Sun are the longest. If you look through a telescope, you can even spot crater walls disappearing into the shadows.


Jupiter-Moon Conjunctions

As noted above in Special Events, a Jupiter-Moon conjunction will occur when the two will appear close to each other March 2, 29 & April 26. On those three dates, the Moon and Jupiter will be upper left of the constellation Orion.

Venus-Moon Conjunctions

A Venus-Moon Conjunction will occur when the two will seem near each other on March 22 and April 21. On these two dates, the Moon and Venus will be in the west.