The University of Arizona

Skywatcher's Guides

Flandrau’s Observatory is operated entirely by volunteers. Please call ahead to see if the observatory is open (generally Thurs-Sat 7pm – 10pm). Our astronomer volunteers will help you experience the 16-inch telescope as well as answer your questions about the night sky.

Written by: Lucas Snyder (Flandrau Planetarium Operator)
Images contributed by: Tim Van DevenderAlistair Symon (Flandrau Telescope Operators), Nine Planets, and Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS)

Navigationphoto by Tim Van Devender

Stars and Constellations

In April, the spring sky is now prominent in the east, along with the familiar Big Dipper.  The Big Dipper is high in the northeast, and the two stars at the end of the bowl can be used to find Polaris, our north star.  Also, the handle can be used to "arc to Arcturus", a bright star in the constellation Boötes. Next, Leo the lion is very high in the east, approaching the middle of the sky now, with the constellation Virgo just below.  The winter constellations are also visible, now in the west.  Taurus the bull is getting lower in the west, near Orion the hunter to the west-southwest.  Canis Major (the big dog), along with the bright star Sirius, is also getting low in the southwest.  Gemini the twins is a little higher in the west, along with Auriga the charioteer in the west-northwest and Canis Minor (the little dog) in the southwest.  The winter Milky Way is now getting lower in the west as well.  Far to the south we can see some constellations making up part of Jason's Argo Navis, which we only get to see briefly since it is so far south.  Finally, there is still a small portion of the fall sky still visible just for the first hour or so of the night.  Cassiopeia the queen is in the north-northwest, and Perseus the hero is in the northwest.

 

In May, the winter constellations are lower in the west, and Orion, Taurus, and Canis Major are already in the process of setting at the beginning of the night, along with Cassiopeia and Perseus to the northwest.  The spring constellations are higher now, and we can see the rest that weren't up this time last month.  Hercules is below Boötes in the east-northeast.  Some of the summer constellations are also getting ready to come up and will be visible a few hours after sunset.

 

 Interesting Stars to Observe

Name / Designation

Apparent Magnitude
(lower = brighter)

Distance

(light-years)

Notes

Sirius

-1.44

8.6

 

Arcturus

-0.05

36.7

 

Vega

0.03

25

 

Capella

0.08

42

 

Rigel

0.18

770

 

Procyon

0.4

11

 

Betelgeuse

0.45

427

 

Altair

0.76

17

 

Aldeberan

0.87

65

 

Spica

0.98

262

 

Pollux

1.16

38

 

Markab

1.25

140

 

Deneb

1.25

3230

 

Regulus

1.36

77

means "Little King"

Castor

1.58

52

 

Polaris

1.97

431

 

Alpheratz or Sirrah

2.07

97

 

Mirach

2.07

199

 

Algol

2.09

93

variable star

Denebola

2.14

36.2

 

Enif

2.38

670

 

Almak

2.1 / 5.0 & 6.3

355

 triple star system w/ 64 yr orbit

Albireo

3.2 / 5.8 & 5.1

390 / 380

 possibly a triple star system

Eta Cassiopeiae

3.5 / 7.4

19

480 yr orbit

 

Solar System

Venus is visible in the morning sky before sunrise.

 

Jupiter is still in the constellation Gemini, and up for the first few hours of the night.

 

Mars is now coming up around sunset, in the constellation Virgo, and is vislbe most of the night. 

 

Saturn comes up just after sunset, in the constellation Libra and is also up most of the night.

 

Mercury will be visible for the beginning of April in the east before sunrise but then crosses to the other side, becoming visible in the west after sunset by mid-May.

 

Jupiter Great Red Spot Transits during February and March (when the Flandrau dome is open)

NOTE: The GRS is visible on the disk of Jupiter for 50 minutes before and after meridian transit time.

Date

Meridian Transit Time

04/05/14

07:01 PM

04/12/14

07:50 PM

04/17/14

07:00 PM

04/19/14

08:39 PM

04/24/14

07:49 PM

04/26/14

09:28 PM

05/01/14

08:39 PM

05/08/14

09:29 PM

05/30/14

07:48 PM

 

Calendar of Night Sky Events during February and March

04/02/14

Uranus at conjunction. Not visible as it is on the opposite side of the sun.

04/07/14

First Quarter Moon.

04/08/14

Mars at opposition. This is the best viewing we'll get until 2016.

04/11/14

Venus close to Neptune. Only 0.7° apart.

04/14/14

Mercury close to Uranus. Separated by 1.2°, but only 12° away from the sun.

04/14/14

Ceres at opposition. This is the best view we get of this dwarf planet, but we still need a telescope to see it.

04/15/14

Full Moon and Total Lunar Eclipse. We are in a prime location to see the entire eclipse. It starts in the evening of the 14th and ends in the morning of the 15th.

04/22/14

Last Quarter Moon.

04/22/14

Peak of Lyrids meteor shower.

04/25/14

Mercury at superior conjunction. Not visible as it is on the opposite site of the sun.

04/29/14

New Moon and Hybrid Solar Eclipse. Not visible from Tucson.

05/06/14

First Quarter Moon.

05/07/14

Peak of Eta Aquariids meteor shower.

05/10/14

Saturn at opposition. The best view we get of the ringed planet.

05/14/14

Full Moon.

05/15/14

Venus close to Uranus. Separated by 1.2°.

05/21/14

Last Quarter Moon.

05/25/14

Mercury at greatest eastern elongation. Visible in the evening sky after sunset.

05/28/14

New Moon.

 

Deep Sky

The winter Milky Way is now getting low in the west, but there are still several interesting objects we can see here.  The Pleiades (Seven Sisters, M45) is close to the west-northwest horizon right next to the Hyades (C41), which makes the face of Taurus the bull.  The constellation Auriga is a little bit higher, where we can see M36, M37, and M38, which are visible with binoculars.  The Double Cluster (C14) in Perseus is low in the north-northwest.  Higher in the sky we have the Beehive (Praesepe, M44) in Cancer the crab and Coma Berenices (Bernice's Hair) near the tail of Leo.

 

We are now beginning to see some globular clusters coming up in the east.  M3 is towards the east, in the constellation Boötes.  Nearby, the famous Hercules Globular (M13) is low to the east-northeast.

 

For nebulae, we have the spectacular Orion Nebula (M42) now now getting low to the west-southwest. This is the closest star-forming region to our solar system.  We also have some good planetary nebulae, which come from dying stars.  The Eskimo (C39) in Gemini is high in the west, the Owl (M97) in Ursa Major is high in the northeast, and the Ghost of Jupiter (C59) is to the south in the constellation Hydra.

 

And now the galaxies:  In Ursa Major to the north we have Bode's Galaxy (M81) and the Cigar Galaxy (M82), close enough to be seen together in a low-power telescope.  Nearby in the constellation Canes Venatici we have the Whirlpool (M51), which is a pair of colliding galaxies.  The Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) is also nearby near the handle of the Big Dipper.  Then the Sombrero Galaxy (M104) is in the southeast in the constellation Virgo.

 

 Interesting Deep Sky Objects to Observe during April and May

Designation

Name

Apparent Magnitude

Apparent Size

Distance

(light-years)

Type

Messier 45

Pleiades

1.6

110'

440

open cluster

Messier 31

Andromeda Galaxy

3.4

3° x 1°

2,900,000

spiral galaxy

Messier 44

Beehive Cluster

3.7

95'

577

open cluster

Messier 42

Orion Nebula

4

85' x 60'

1400-1600

diffuse nebula

Messier 33

Triangulum Galaxy

5.7

67' x 42'

3,000,000

spiral galaxy

NGC 7009

Saturn Nebula

8

36"

2,400

planetary nebula

Messier 81

Bode's Galaxy

8.5

21'

1,200,000

spiral galaxy

Messier 82

Cigar Galaxy

9.5

14'

1,200,000

galaxy

 

Frequently Asked Questions – What is a meteor/shooting star/falling star?  What is a meteor shower?

When you see something shooting across the sky in a matter of a couple seconds or less, chances are it was a meteor.  They are also commonly called shooting stars or falling stars, though in reality they are not stars.  Meteors are usually very small, even as small as a grain of sand, but when they hit the atmosphere they burn up and become visible.  They are basically the same composition as asteroids, just not as big.  Most meteors we see are around 50-60 miles up in the atmosphere. Most disintegrate and eventually reach the ground only as dust, but larger ones can end up as meteorites on the ground.

 

One common misconception about meteors is that they get hot because of friction with the air.  However, the heat comes from ram pressure -- the air particles can't get out of the way fast enough, and the fast compression causes it to heat up.

 

Millions of meteors occur every day, but usually they are usually too faint to notice.  Plus half of them happen in the daytime and thus are not visible.  The best time to look for meteors is during a meteor shower, when the Earth is going through a denser stream of material in the solar system.  These streams come from debris left behind by a comet.  This happens several times every year.  Meteors can happen any time of the day or night, but the best time to see them is during the morning hours before sunrise because that is when we are facing into the direction of the Earth's motion around the sun.

 

If you have any questions you'd like me to answer in the next issue of SWG, please let me know.  I'm also happy to take suggestions or comments, and also pictures if you'd like to send them.  Happy viewing!

 

Table of Images (Click on an image to expand)

Sketches and Images - Image Credit (Tim Van Devender)

Mars

Mars

Saturn

Saturn

Jupiter

Jupiter

The Moon

The Moon

Jupiter and Io Moon Shadow

Jupiter and Io Moon Shadow

Messier 45 (Pleiades)

M45

NGC 884 and NGC 869 - Perseus Double Cluster

NGC 884 and NGC 869 - Perseus Double Cluster

NGC 2024 - The Horsehead and Flame Nebulae

NGC 2024 - The Horsehead and Flame Nebulae

NGC 2237 - The Rosette Nebula

NGC 2237 - The Rosette Nebula

NGC 2264

NGC 2264

Images from Alistair Symon
Messier 27 (Dumbbell Nebula)

M27

Mssier 31 (Andromeda Galaxy)

M31

Messier 33 (Triangulum Galaxy)

M33

Messier 45 (Pleiades)

M45

Messier 57 (Ring Nebula)

M57

Images from Nine Planets
Jupiter

Jupiter

The Moon

The Moon

Images from SEDS
Messier 13 (Hercules Globular Cluster)

M13

Messier 15

M15

Messier 27 (Dumbbell Nebula)

M27

Messier 31 (Andromeda Galaxy)

M31

Messier 33 (Triangulum Galaxy)

M33

Messier 44 (Beehive Cluster)

M44

Messier 45 (Pleiades)

M45

Messier 57 (Ring Nebula)

M57

NGC 7009 (The Saturn Nebula)

NGC 7009

NGC 7293 (The Helix Nebula)

NGC 7293

 

Bibliography

Cornelius, Geoffrey. The Starlore Handbook: an Essential Guide to the Night Sky. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle, 1997. Print.

Ottewell, Guy. Astronomical Calendar 2012. Raynham, Mass: Universal Workshop, 2011. Print.

Ottewell, Guy. Astronomical Calendar 2013. Raynham, Mass: Universal Workshop, 2012. Print.

Ottewell, Guy. The Astronomical Companion. 2nd ed. Raynham, Mass: Universal Workshop, 2010. Print.

 

Astronomy Magazine. February 2013. Volume 41, No 2.

Astronomy Magazine. February 2013. Volume 41, No 3.

Sky & Telescope. February 2013. Volume 125, No 2.

Sky & Telescope. March 2013. Volume 125, No 3.