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Touring the Skies By: Jim Bonser (

April 5, 2013
Northern-Sun Print
Last month we were ‘treated’ to a comet named Pan-STARRS which was visible with binoculars or a telescope just after sunset. For us in Iowa the clouds interfered most nights, but Deb and I managed to get a few nice pictures, though it wasn’t easy! The comet approached the sun from south of the ecliptic – the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun so it was not visible to us in the northern hemisphere until it went around the far side of the sun and began its journey back to the outer solar system. It will remain visible this month, but you will need a good pair of binoculars or a telescope to view it. Pan-STARRS will grow dimmer and dimmer as it moves farther and farther away in the northern skies. It will be near the Andromeda Galaxy on April 5th and in Cassiopeia late in the month, By then a telescope will be required to view it, unfortunately. Something much brighter and more exciting will be arriving in the evening skies a couple hours after sunset this month though, the beautiful golden planet Saturn with its incredible rings will be rising in the east. Each night in April Saturn will rise a little earlier. On April 11th (my birthday) Saturn will clear the eastern horizon a little after 9 P.M. By the 28th, Saturn will reach opposition and so will be rising at about 8 o’clock, just as the Sun is setting. I am so looking forward to sharing Saturn with budding stargazers as well as old hands – Saturn never fails to bring ohh’s and ahh’s when people see those amazing rings in a telescope and this will be a great summer of Saturn watching! Saturn is in the constellation Libra near the boarder between Libra and Virgo. By the end of the month, Saturn will be about 15 degrees slightly east and south of the bright star Spica, in Virgo. Remember, you can easily find Spica by using Jack Horkheimer’s clues. Just find the Big Dipper and follow the arc of the handle away from the bowl until you come to the bright reddish colored star Arcturus (arc to Arcturus) and then ‘spike’ down toward the horizon continuing the arc to bright white Spica! Jupiter will also be with us in the April skies. Jupiter will start the month half way up in the western sky at sunset as April starts. It will slowly but noticeably move closer and closer to the horizon all month until it is only one fourth the way up from the horizon after sunset at the end of the month. Late in the month, Venus will begin to be visible just above the western horizon after sunset. It will flirt with Jupiter next month, but for now she is keeping a shy distance from the king of the planets. Teasing him a little, maybe? April is the month to view the Lyrid meteor shower, but unfortunately this year the bright moon will keep us from seeing all but the very brightest. If you want to try, the best time will be around April 22 after 11 P.M. Lyrid meteors can be very bright and sometimes leave a ‘train’ or trail behind that can last for several seconds or even a minute. They will start (radiate from) between the constellation Hercules and Lyra. If you go out and ‘catch’ some, be sure to drop me a note! Finally, for you who like to take pictures of the night sky, there will be a beautiful crescent moon between the Hyades and the Pleiades star clusters on April 13th. Again, if you get a nice picture, please send me a copy to enjoy! Clear Skies! Ps. 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God;        the skies proclaim the work of his hands.


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