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Orion Sky Times April, 2010
By: Charles Rector | Newsletter | 12:37pm, April 15, 2010

In This Issue

Orion Sky Times

Sky Events

Moon Phases

Wed., April 14
New Moon, 8:29 a.m.

The Moon is not visible on the date of New Moon because it is too close to the Sun, but can be seen low in the west as a narrow crescent the next night just after sunset. Because of the angle the ecliptic makes with the horizon, the Moon's cusps appear to point straight upward as seen from the Northern Hemisphere.

Wed., April 21
First Quarter Moon, 2:20 p.m.

The First Quarter Moon rises around noon, and sets around 4 a.m. It is at a high northern declination and so is above the horizon for about 18 hours straight.

Wed., April 28
Full Moon, 8:18 a.m.
The Full Moon of April is known as the Egg Moon. Other names are Pink Moon, Sprouting Grass Moon, Fish Moon, Seed Moon, and Waking Moon. In Hindi it is known as Hanuman Jayanti. Its Sinhala (Buddhist) name is Bak Poya. The Full Moon rises around sunset and sets around sunrise, the only night in the month when the Moon is in the sky all night long. The rest of the month, the Moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky.

Observing Highlights

Thu., April 15
Moon, Venus, and Mercury in triple conjunction, 8 p.m

The slender crescent Moon, Venus, and Mercury will be closely grouped tonight in evening twilight.

Thu., April 15
Mars near the Beehive, all evening

Mars will be visible just above the Beehive star cluster in Cancer, Messier 44.


Mercury will be well placed for Northern Hemisphere observers for the first two weeks of April. This is the best evening apparition of Mercury for 2010.

Venus is now a bright “evening star” visible low in the west just after sunset.

Mars is high in the southern sky in Cancer at sunset, and sets around 2 a.m. Its diameter is now below 10 arc seconds, making detail hard to see in a telescope.

Jupiter is just beginning to emerge from morning twilight low in the southeast.

Saturn is visible all night long in Virgo. Its rings are now opening again, making it a fine sight in small telescopes.

Geoff Gaherty

Data for this calendar have been derived from a number of sources including the Observer's Handbook 2010 of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Starry Night® software, and others. Only events with a reasonable possibility for Northern Hemisphere observers, or those events with some other significance, are given. All times shown are U.S. Eastern Time.



Orion Telescopes and Binoculars is pleased to announce that we will be attending the Northeast Astronomy Forum and Telescope Show (NEAF) for the first time this year. The show is presented by the Rockland Astronomy Club and takes place April 17 and 18th in Suffern, New York at Rockland Community College.

We will be showing the full range of our product line, from simple refractors targeted to the beginner to the amazing 36” Monster Dobsonian, plus other exciting new products seen: here.

There will also be some great raffle and door prizes provided by Orion so please stop by if you are in the area. We will be located in booth 527. More information about NEAF can be found at:

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We may not be physically able to travel back in time, but Starry Night can show us what the sky looked like when our ancestors first wondered about those sparkling points of light.

Let's jump into our Starry Night time machine and travel back to 35,000 BC. On a warm April night, we gaze at the cloudless northern sky.

Our familiar constellations are all there. But the Little Dipper asterism in Ursa Minor looks distorted; and the Big Dipper looks odd too. In our excitement we have forgotten that the stars are not fixed in the sky but move at tremendous velocities through space. Because the stars are so far away, their relative motion is usually not apparent for decades or centuries. However, in over 35 thousand years, there is a noticeable change.

The screenshots below show the changes in the Little Dipper from 35 000 BC to the present day.

Try changing the years using your own copy of Starry Night. What will the Big Dipper look like 50,000 years from now?

All the screenshots above prominently show Polaris, our pole star, at the end of the Little Dipper's handle. Polaris, of course, gets its name from the fact that it is about one degree from the north celestial pole (NCP).

But take a close look at the first screenshot: why is Polaris so far from the NCP? Again, we neglected to take into account a very slow process -- the precession of the Earth's spin axis. We know that this axis is tilted by 23 1/2 degrees with respect to the ecliptic.

But like a spinning top, the orientation of the spin axis changes as it slowly traces out a circle. For the Earth, one complete rotation takes about 26 000 years, so the NCP traces out a circle against the background of the stars.

Thus in 35 000 BC, no bright star was near the NCP whereas the pyramid builders could use Thuban, in the Constellation Draco, as their north star. Bright Vega will be our north star in about 12 000 years. Check out the screen shot below to see the location of the NCP at various times in the past and the future.

You can also load the file and use your copy of Starry Night to investigate precession.

Herb Koller

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Clear nights are often few and far between, so I find that it helps to have specific observing targets in mind when I head out to a dark site with my telescope.

If you are new to astronomy, let me recommend the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's Explore the Universe Certificate program. This is a smorgasbord of observing targets: constellations, bright stars, the Moon, solar system objects, deep sky objects, and double stars. It doesn't require a telescope, only binoculars and naked eye. It also doesn't take forever, since there are many optional objects, so you can do it all in a few months. You don't even have to be a member of the RASC to participate. You can download the program checklist from the above web site.

The traditional right of passage for telescopic observers is Charles Messier's list of wannabe comets. Messier was the first astronomer, back in the 18th century, to systematically search for comets. Along the way he was annoyed by objects which looked like comets, but didn't move. In order to make his comet hunting easier, he began to catalog these objects. His catalog of 110 objects became the first list of what we now call “deep sky objects.” These are objects which generally lie beyond the naked eye stars in the depths of space: star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies.

Because Messier was the first to catalog them, his list is generally considered to be the best of the best. They are scattered widely through the sky, so that there are always quite a few visible on any given night. Start with the brightest objects, the open clusters, then go on to the fainter globular clusters, galactic and planetary nebulae, and finally to the far distant galaxies.

So what do you do if you've now seen all of Messier's objects? There are a number of more advanced lists of fainter and fainter objects. One of the best is Alan Dyer's list of the Finest NGC Objects, published every year in the RASC's Observer's Handbook. Alan includes most of the showpiece objects that Messier missed, including many fine planetary nebulae.

Suppose you've tired of “faint fuzzies” or live in a city where deep sky objects just aren't visible? Then try something different: double stars. Back in the early days of amateur astronomy, observers with small refractors tracked down hundreds of these astronomical jewels. Nowadays they often get overlooked, and that means that many observers are missing out on some of the finest objects in the sky.

What's so exciting about double stars? Lots of things! First of all, they often come in strikingly contrasting colors, such as Albireo. Yet two equally bright stars the same color, like Castor, also have their attraction. Then there are the unequal pairs, like Rigel: a tiny speck of a white dwarf hiding in the blazing light of the primary star.

There is an excellent list of double stars put out by the Astronomical League as their Double Star Club. The Astronomical League double stars aren't normally displayed in Starry Night, but you can download and install the list here.

Each of these more advanced lists contains 100 to 110 objects, and will take most observers a year or two to complete. You may have heard of observers seeing all 110 Messier objects in a single night, but that's during an annual race known as the Messier Marathon for advanced visual observers. Most people take a more leisurely trip through these lists, and enjoy the many spectacular views along the way.

Clear skies!

Geoff Gaherty
Geoff has been a life-long telescope addict, and is active in many areas of visual observation; he is a moderator of the Yahoo "Talking Telescopes" group.

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Target: Star of Bethlehem

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Constellation in Focus

Don't let the scale of the diagram above fool you: Hydra is the largest constellation, and covers some 90° of sky. At this time of year, from mid-northern latitudes, it lies along the southern horizon at midnight.

To start, M83 is an impressive barred spiral galaxy that, from our vantage point in space, lies almost face-on. Even small scopes should pick up its obvious structure.

M68 is a nice globular cluster, 33,000 light years away. It's visible in binoculars but a telescope brings out the individual suns.

NGC 3242, the Ghost of Jupiter, is one of the finest planetary nebulae in the sky. It's a full magnitude brighter than the more famous Ring Nebula (M57) in Lyra. A small telescope reveals a pale blue disc with diffuse edges and the prominent 11th magnitude star. Due to its high surface brightness, this target takes high magnification quite well: try 200x or 250x to see the football-shaped interior and faint shell.

NGC 3115, the Spindle Galaxy, is actually in Sextans. In contrast to M83, this galaxy is seen almost edge on. It's a lenticular galaxy, meaning it's a disc galaxy with very little spiral structure.

Sean O'Dwyer

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