Skies For The Gulf Coast

Apr 10, 2019

Dr. Wayne Wooten

For April 2019, the waning crescent moon will be just south of Venus in the dawn an hour before sunrise on April 1.  The next morning, it will be below Venus and south of fainter Mercury 30 minutes before dawn.  Binoculars will help spot elusive Mercury.  The New moon is April 5, with the waxing crescent moon south of the Pleaides and Mars on the evening of April 8.  The Full Moon, the Paschal Moon following the Vernal Equinox, is on April 19, and sets the following Sunday, April 21, as the date for Easter this year.  On April 23, the Waning gibbous moon is close to Jupiter in the morning sky; it passes south of Saturn two morning later.  The third quarter moon is April 26.

While the naked eye, dark adapted by several minutes away from any bright lights, is a wonderful instrument to stare up into deep space, far beyond our own Milky Way, binoculars are better for spotting specific deep sky objects.  For a detailed map of northern hemisphere skies, about March 30, visit the www.skymaps.com website and download the map for April 2019; it will have a more extensive calendar, and list of best objects for the naked eyes, binoculars, and scopes on the back of the map  Also available  is wonderful video exploring the April sky:

Mercury is low in the dawn sky all month, much harder to see than brilliant Venus above it.  Their closest approach is on April 16, with Mercury 4.3 degrees to the lower left of Venus.  Venus itself is on the far side of the Sun and drawing closer to be lost in the sun’s glare next month.  Mars is in Taurus in the western evening sky and passes 6.5 degrees north of similarly colored orange giant Aldebaran on April 16.  Jupiter is in Ophiuchus, and rises about midnight in the SE in mid-April.  Saturn is east of the teapot of Sagittarius and rises about two hours after its larger, brighter Jovian neighbor.  Both will be well placed for our summer beach gazes this year.

Yellow Capella, a giant star the same temperature and color as our much smaller Sun, dominates the northwestern sky.  It is part of the pentagon on stars making up Auriga, the Charioteer (think Ben Hur).  Several nice binocular Messier open clusters are found in the winter milky way here.  East of Auriga, the twins, Castor and Pollux highlight the Gemini.  South of Gemini, Orion is the most familiar winter constellation, dominating the southern sky at dusk.  The reddish supergiant Betelguese marks his eastern shoulder, while blue-white supergiant Rigel stands opposite on his west knee.  Just south of the belt, hanging like a sword downward, is M-42, the Great Nebula of Orion, an outstanding binocular and telescopic stellar nursery.  The bright diamond of four stars that light it up are the trapezium cluster, one of the finest sights in a telescope. In the east are the hunter’s two faithful companions, Canis major and minor.  Procyon is the bright star in the little dog and rises minutes before Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.  At 8 light years distance, Sirius is the closest star we can easily see with the naked eye from West Florida. 

To the northeast, look for the Big Dipper rising, with the top two stars of the bowl, the pointers, giving you a line to find Polaris, the Pole Star.  Look for Mizar-Alcor, a nice naked eye double star, in the bend of the big dipper’s handle.  Take the pointers at the front of the dipper’s bowl south instead to the head of Leo, looking much like the profile of the famed Sphinx.  The bright star at the Lion’s heart is Regulus, the “regal star.”  Now take the curved handle of the Big Dipper, and follow the arc SE to bright orange Arcturus, the brightest star of the spring sky. Recent studies of its motion link it to the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy, a companion of our Milky Way being tidally disrupted and spilling its stars above and below the plane of the Milky Way, much like dust falling away from a decomposing comet nucleus.  So this brightest star of Bootes the Bear Driver is apparently a refugee from another galaxy!

Now spike south to Spica, the blue-white gem in Virgo rising in the SE.  Virgo is home to many galaxies, as we look away from the obscuring gas and dust in the plane of the Milky Way into deep space.  To the southwest of Spica is the four-sided Crow, Corvus.  To the ancient Greeks, Spica was associated with Persephone, daughter of Ceres, goddess of the harvest.  She was abducted by her suitor Pluto, carried down to Hades (going to Hell for a honeymoon!) and when Jupiter worked out a compromise between the newlyweds and the angry mother-in-law, the agreement dictated Persephone come back to the earth’s surface for six months of the year, and Mama Ceres was again placated, and the crops could grow again.  As you see Spica rising in the SE, it is time to “plant your peas”, and six months from now, when Spica again disappears in the sun’s glare in the SW, you need to “get your corn in the crib”….so was set our calendar of planting and harvesting in antiquity.  In the arms of Virgo is a rich harvest of galaxies for modern astronomers.  

Astronomy Events:

Public gazes by the Escambia Amateur Astronomers for 2018 begin at sunset on April 12 and 13 with a gaze at the Gulfside Performance Pavilion in Pensacola Beach.  Later Pavilion Gazes will be held on May 10-11, June 7-8, August 9-10, September 6-7, ending on October 4-5.

Star Gaze at Big Lagoon State Park, Saturday, April 27 at sunset. This public gaze will be in the east parking lot near the observation tower.  More Big Lagoon events are planned for May 5, June 22, July 27, August 24, September 21, and October 19.

Sky Interpretation Sessions for the National Park Service, Friday, May 3 at sunset. There is no charge for our gaze, but normal park fees still apply.  Fort Pickens gazes continue at Battery Worth on May 31, June 28, July 26, August 30, and September 27.  All gazes are subject to cancellation due to bad weather or clouds; if it clears up by Saturday, our backup gaze will be held then, but check with the gate before heading out.

Escambia Amateur Astronomers Club meets in room 1775 at Pensacola State College on Fridays closest to the Full Moon at 7 p.m.  Our next meeting is on April 19. Future meetings: May 17, June 14, July 19, September 13, October 11, November 15, and December 13.  For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers, join us on Facebook or visit www.eaaa.net  or call our sponsor, Lauren Rogers at Pensacola State at 484-1155 or lrogers@pensacolastate.edu.  To be added to our astro alerts contact Dr. Wooten at wwooten@pensacolastate.edu.