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Friday 18 April 2014  •   19 Willow Moon 2014

Viewing the night sky in Willow Moon 2014

31 March - 29 April 2014

Map of night sky at full moon: 15 April, 07:42 UT
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Willow Moon 2014

Jupiter is very bright in the evening sky, setting just after midnight by the end of the month. The moon is south of the huge planet on 6 April.

Mars comes to opposition on 8 April, and is a magnificent red jewel in the night sky, rising around sunset and setting around sunrise, easily outshining even the brightest star of Virgo, and indeed just brighter than the brilliant Sirius (though not Jupiter this year). It is in fact closest to Earth on 14 April (a result of the planets’ elliptical orbits), and is under 62% of the Earth-Sun distance away, at 92.4 million kilometres or 5.1 light minutes from Earth. Mars will be quite a lot brighter at its next opposition in May 2016, and even more so in late July 2018. On 14 April, though, the nearly full moon is near Mars in the sky, making the red planet temporarily less obvious.

The total eclipse of the moon on 15 April is best seen from the Americas and the Pacific. As seen from NW Europe, the moon is just about to set when the first partial shadow (penumbra) of the Earth touches the moon at 05:53 BST (04:53 UT). The total eclipse lasts from 07:06 to 08:26 UT or 00:06 to 01:26 Pacific Daylight Time.

Saturn rises mid-evening in the constellation Libra, and looks well in the sky to the east of Mars. The moon is near Saturn on the night 16/17 April, and occults it as seen from the south Pacific and southern South America. As seen from Santiago de Chile, the moon covers Saturn from 07:10 to 08:25 UT (03:10 to 04:25 Chile Standard Time).

Venus is the lovely morning star, low down in the east, as seen from the northern hemisphere. The old moon is close by on the morning of 26 April. There is an eclipse of the sun at dark moon on 29 April, visible as a partial eclipse from Australia and northern areas of Eastern Antarctica, with an annular eclipse seen in a very small area of the ice-covered continent. From Perth, 49% of the moon is covered at maximum eclipse at 06:43 UT (14:43 WST); Adelaide 51% at 07:08 (16:38 CST); Hobart 64% at 07:01 (17:01 EST); Melbourne 55% at 07:08 (17:08 EST), with the sun quite low above the western horizon in Hobart and Melbourne; as seen from Sydney, the sun sets just before it reaches maximum eclipse, but in all parts of SE Australia, the sun will set as a dramatic crescent. As always, take care when looking directly at the sun, and use special eclipse glasses if you can. You can also project the sun’s image on to card using a telescope or binoculars, but never actually look through the device at the sun, unless you have a properly fitted and undamaged eclipse filter, or you will permanently ruin your sight.

On 15 April the dwarf planet Ceres comes to opposition; it is nearest Earth on 14 April, 246 million kilometres or 13.7 light minutes away. At its brightest it cannot be seen from Earth with the naked eye, but binoculars should show it, north of the halfway point between the stars Tau Virginis and 84 Virginis. Ceres, named after the goddess of the corn, is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, 975 km in diameter at its equator, contains about a third of the mass of the asteroid belt, and may also contain life. The Dawn probe is due to arrive there in February 2015.

Look out for the Lyrid meteors around 22 April.

The month ahead: Hawthorn Moon 2014

30 April - 28 May 2014

Map of night sky at full moon: 14 May, 19:16 UT
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Hawthorn Moon 2014

As the sun sets on the evening of May Day, the new moon is among the Hyades, and very close to Aldebaran, albeit that the twilight is too bright to make it easy to see the great red star of Taurus.

Jupiter is very bright in the evening sky, setting in the late evening. On the evening of 4 May, the moon is nearby. Mars, less bright than Jupiter, is now moving slowly away from Earth, and is growing a little fainter day by day, but is still a prominent object for most of the night, setting in the early hours. On the evening of 11 May, the moon is nearby.

Saturn comes to opposition and its nearest to Earth this orbit on 10 May amongst the faint stars of Libra. It is 1330 million kilometres or 74 light minutes from Earth. Its rings are well on display, and the planet is a wonderful sight through a decent telescope. The full moon is close to Saturn on 14 May, and occults it over Australia (exc N & NE) and New Zealand. In Sydney, the occultation lasts from 10:55 to 11:58 UT (20:55 to 21:58 EST), and in Wellington from 11:45 to 12:50 UT (23:45 to 00:50 NZST).

Venus still adorns the eastern morning sky, albeit still quite low down as seen from the northern hemisphere. On the morning of 16 May, it is just over a degree south of Uranus: a good time to look for Uranus using binoculars. Uranus can be just seen with the naked eye, but only when the sky is really dark, and not in the pre-dawn twilight. On the morning of 25 May, the moon is near Venus.

Mercury comes out into the evening sky towards the end of the month, and on 25 May reaches 22.6°E of the sun. The few evenings around this date are a particularly good opportunity for northern hemisphere people to see the elusive inner planet, as it is relatively high above the WNW horizon at sunset, and has the lovely, bright Jupiter above and to the left of it. Find a place with a good view of the horizon, follow a line from Jupiter to the sunset, and you will find Mercury.

On 7 May, the dwarf planet Ceres passes five minutes of arc north of the star 78 Virginis.

Look out for the Eta Aquariid meteors around 5 or 6 May.

The Rosetta probe is due to go into orbit of the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in May, and to make observations before its scheduled landing on 14 November.

William Morris
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