The Sky This Week from April 24 to May 1 – Astronomy Magazine

Tuesday, April 28At magnitude 8.4, Vesta is within easy reach of most binoculars. To find it, locate Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, and draw an imaginary line northeast. First, youll hit the open star cluster NGC 1647, which contains several dozen scattered 8th- to 11th- magnitude stars. Continue that line roughly the same distance to the northeast and begin scanning for Vesta, which is slowly advancing through a region with few background stars. Try this exercise two or three nights in a row to find the spot that has moved thats the asteroid youre looking for.

Wednesday, April 29Mars remains an ideal morning target to catch before sunrise. The Red Planet glows at magnitude 0.4 in the southeastern sky, positioned midway between two 4th-magnitude stars: Iota () and Gamma () Capricorni. Mars is nearly 20 above the horizon an hour before sunrise.

Mars also stands at the center of a planetary gathering. Look west to find Saturn nearly 19 away, with Jupiter just 5 farther in the same direction. These two solar system giants shine at magnitude 0.6 and 2.4, respectively. Telescopic observers and imagers can add a dwarf planet to the mix: Pluto is just 2 southwest of Jupiter, glinting faintly at magnitude 14.

Turn your telescope 30 east of Mars to glimpse magnitude 8 Neptune. The ice giant is still low on the eastern horizon, rising higher as the sky brightens with the coming dawn. See how long you can track it before the bright sky hides it from view.

Thursday, April 30First Quarter Moon occurs at 4:38 P.M. EDT. An hour after sunset, our satellite stands high in the southwestern sky in the faint constellation Cancer the Crab. In the moonlit sky, you might have better luck spotting Gemini the Twins and their bright luminaries, Castor and Pollux, to the west. Look east of the Moon to find Leo the Lion, with his brightest star Regulus, and follow the ecliptic farther east to reach Virgo the Maiden, whose brightest star is Spica. This blue-white magnitude 1 star is not one star, but two however, the stars are so close that they cannot be split visually. Instead, astronomers discovered Spicas dual nature by noticing that as one star orbits the other, gravitys effects shift the light we see from the star slightly red and then blue over time.

The larger of the two, Spica A, is roughly seven times wider than our Sun and 10 times as massive. Most of the light we see from the star comes from this component. The smaller Spica B is a little less than four times wider than the Sun and seven times as massive.

Friday, May 1 The Eta Aquariids have been slowly ramping up since last week and will peak in another few days. Its not one of the years best meteor showers, due to its low-altitude radiant in the Northern Hemisphere and low predicted rate of just 10 meteors per hour at its peak. But with Mars hanging nearby and a still-crescent Moon in the sky, its worth trying to catch a few shooting stars this morning.

Find the darkest skies possible and spend some time scanning overhead. Try concentrating on a spot away from the constellation Aquarius, where the showers meteors originate. You may only see five or so Eta Aquariid meteors an hour, but this is also a great chance to relax beneath the stars and get to know the morning sky much better.

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The Sky This Week from April 24 to May 1 - Astronomy Magazine

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