Skynotes April 2016

Month Highlights

Three planets are now visible in the evening sky – Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter shines brightly in the north-east, while Mars and Saturn appear later in the evening. Before sunrise, Venus is the bright ‘morning star’ found towards the east.

Planetarium Event

On Friday evening, 22 April, the Planetarium will be joining a world-wide celebration to mark humanity’s first trip into space, the flight of Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin. Yuri’s Night Space Party will feature a DJ, a talk from Mars One candidate Dianne McGrath, and a special screening of the planetarium show Dawn of the Space Age.

School Holidays

During the school holidays (26 March – 13 April) the Planetarium will be screening our brand new show Capturing the Cosmos.

Narrated by Australia’s Academy award-winning actor Geoffrey Rush, this planetarium show highlights current research being carried out by astronomers across Australia.

Planetarium session times are:

12pm: Tycho to the Moon - meet Tycho, a dog who doesn't just howl at the Moon but wants to go there!

1pm: Tilt - come on a whirlwind adventure to find out how the seasons work.

2pm: Capturing the Cosmos - a new way of looking at the sky to better understand our universe

3pm: Capturing the Cosmos

See the Melbourne Planetarium's What's On listing for more details.

Sunrise & Sunset Times

 

  Rise Set
Friday 1st 7:34* 7:13*
Monday 11th 6:43 5:59
Thursday 21st 6:52 5:45
Saturday 30th 7:00 5:34
*Daylight savings ends at 3am, Sunday 3 April

 

Moon Phases

 

Last Quarter Friday 1st
New Moon Thursday 7th
First Quarter Thursday 14th
Full Moon Friday 22nd
Last Quarter Saturday 30th

 

The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Friday 8th at a distance of 357,163 km.

The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Friday 22nd at a distance of 406,350 km.

Let the Moon Be Your Guide

The Moon can be used as a pointer to find other objects in the sky:

 

  • Before sunrise on the 6th, the waning crescent Moon sits above Venus.
  • After sunset on the 11th, the waxing crescent Moon sits to the right of Aldebaran (Taurus).
  • On the 14th, the First Quarter Moon, sits above Castor and Pollux, the twin stars of Gemini.
  • The waxing gibbous Moon sits between Regulus (Taurus) and Jupiter on the 17th.
  • On the 21st, the Moon travels across the sky with the bright star Spica (Virgo).
  • The waning gibbous Moon is near Mars on the 24th.
  • Then on the 25th, the Moon is just to the left of Saturn.

 

Planets

Mercury is too close to the Sun to be seen this month.

 

Venus shines brightly in the morning sky, low towards the eastern horizon. The thin crescent Moon sits above Venus on the 6th. Just nearby, although too faint to see with the naked eye, is the dwarf planet Ceres. We many not be able to see it, but NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is currently in orbit around Ceres and providing fantastic close-up images of the dwarf planet, for the very first time.

Mars and Saturn can be found rising in the east around 9pm, just below the winter constellation of Scorpius. Mars sits to the left of Antares, the red supergiant star in Scorpius, while Saturn sits below them. The Moon is near Mars on the 24th and Saturn on the 25th. By sunrise, the two planets can be found high in the west.

Jupiter is shining brightly in the north-east at sunset. Be sure to look to the left of Jupiter, where you will find the bright star Regulus. Trace the curving line of stars below Regulus, to see the constellation of Leo, the lion. It appears upside-down for us in the southern hemisphere. On the 18th, the Moon will sit near Jupiter.

 

Meteors

The Lyrids is the main meteor shower in April. It is centred near the bright star Vega, which appears low to the northern horizon around 3am. The Lyrids is active between the 16th and the 25th, with a peak around the 22nd, which unfortunately coincides with the Full Moon. Its hourly rate typically reaches 10, but there was an outburst in 1982 when the meteor rate peaked briefly at 90 meteors/hour.

The Pi-Puppids is better placed for us but it is not a persistent shower. It is associated with Comet Grigg-Skjellerup and, being a relatively new shower, has periods of inactivity when the comet is far from the Sun. It peaks around the 23rd and the centre of the shower lies low in the south-west to the right of the bright star Canopus in Carina, the keel.

The delta Pavonids, which began in March, peaks on the 6th. This shower is centred on the little known constellation of Pavo, the peacock, which lies near the South Celestial Pole.

There should also be some meteor activity centred on Scorpius and Sagittarius that is best seen after midnight. Meteor activity in this region of the sky runs from the 15th through until July, with several peaks within this time.

Stars & Constellations

The Southern Cross can be found high in the south-east with the Two Pointers trailing behind. To the right of the Cross, in the south-western sky, is the star Canopus, the second brightest star in the night sky. Low in the south is Achernar, the head of the river Eridanus. Achernar never sets in Melbourne and is called a circumpolar star, along with the Southern Cross and the Two Pointers (Alpha and Beta Centauri).

April is the month for catching both the summer constellation of Orion, the hunter and the winter constellation of Scorpius in the sky together for a brief time after sunset. Orion can be seen lying on his side low in the west below Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Scorpius can be found rising in the east with the red star Antares marking the Scorpion’s heart.

International Space Station

From Earth, the ISS appears as a bright star that steadily moves across the sky. It can often be seen from Melbourne, for example at:

4:55am – 4:58am, Tuesday 5th April.

 

The Station will appear in the north-west and travel across to the south-east, passing above bright Venus.

 

Predictions of when to see the ISS can be obtained from the Heaven's Above website.

On this Day

1st 1948, Alpha, Bethe and Gamow publish their famous paper analysing the 'hot Big Bang'.

2nd 1845, Fizeau and Foucault take the first photograph of the Sun.

3rd 1966, Luna 10 (USSR) became the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon.

4th 1979, Voyager 1 (USA) discovered the rings of Jupiter.

7th 1795, France adopts the metric system.

11th 1970, Apollo 13 (USA) was launched on its ill-fated mission.

12th 1961, Yuri Gagarin (Vostok 1 USSR) became the first human in space.

12th 1981, Columbia (USA) was the first space shuttle to be launched.

14th 1611, The word "telescope" is first used, by Prince Frederico Cesi.

18th 1971, Salyut 1 (USSR), the first space station, was launched.

23rd 1971, First manned docking with a space station (USSR) was performed.

24th 1990, The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched on the space shuttle Discovery.

26th 1920, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis debated "The Scale of the Universe".

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