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Last modified: Thursday, March 30, 2006

STAR TRAK

The moon meets the Pleiades star cluster

Photo by: NASA

Jupiter

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 30, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The most beautiful sight in the night sky during April will be the conjunction of the moon and the Pleiades star cluster, particularly on April 1, when binoculars will reveal this spectacle low in the west about 45 minutes after sunset.

The Pleiades (pronounced PLEE-ah-deez) are lovely by themselves, and on a clear night they can be seen with the unaided eye in the constellation Taurus the Bull. On April 1, the crescent moon will be in the midst of the Pleiades, a delightful sight in binoculars. A photograph of the Pleiades can be seen at http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap021201.html and at other Web sites as well.

Known prehistorically, the Pleiades were called the Seven Sisters in Greek mythology and other Western legends. Many people in other parts of the world have stories about them as well. They are identified as a group of women in many cultures, from Australian Aborigine to Native American. To the Japanese their name is Subaru, from which the car's name was taken.

Planets

Jupiter will rise in the southeast in early evening during April. Wait until the brilliant white object is high in the sky and then use binoculars to see its four largest moons, which Galileo discovered with one of the first telescopes. These tiny bits of white light are strung out in a straight line on both sides of Jupiter, and they seem to slide back and forth along the line from one night to the next as they orbit the planet. You may need to steady your binoculars by resting your elbows on a surface to keep the image from wobbling, but then you'll be able to see the moons. The only times you won't see all four of them are when one or more are crossing in front of the planet or behind it.

Saturn will be high in the south as darkness falls on April evenings, one of the first "stars" to appear. The bright yellow planet will still be a fine sight in any telescope, and it will be visible most of the night in the dim constellation Cancer the Crab.

Mercury will have a very poor appearance for viewers in the Northern Hemisphere during April, being visible barely above the eastern horizon less than an hour before sunrise all month. In the Southern Hemisphere, however, observers will see Mercury before sunrise high above the eastern horizon.

Mars will appear high in the west as darkness falls during April. The orange planet will begin the month in the constellation Taurus the Bull, where it can easily be compared with the bright orange star Aldebaran. Mars will leave Taurus as the month passes, continuing to fade as our distance from it rapidly increases.

Venus will rise in the east-southeast around 5 a.m. local time during April. The brilliant white "morning star" will stay close to the horizon, however, where it is easily blocked by buildings or trees. Find a place with a clear southeastern view to see it.

Meteor shower

The Lyrid meteor shower will peak on the night of April 21-22. About 20 Lyrids per hour are normally visible. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but they will seem to come from a point called the radiant in the constellation Lyra the Harp, which gives the shower its name. Lyra's bright white star Vega will be almost at the radiant, and the meteor count should be highest when Vega is well above the eastern horizon, beginning around 11 p.m. local time in the Northern Hemisphere and lasting the rest of the night. The later the hour, the more meteors there will be.

Summer Triangle

A trio of bright white stars called the Summer Triangle is coming into view in the Northern Hemisphere, with Vega the first to rise each night in the east and leading the way high across the sky. The other stars are Altair in the constellation Aquila the Eagle to the south and Deneb in the constellation Cygnus the Swan to the north. When you are looking from Deneb to Altair, you are also looking at the Milky Way, though it is usually obscured by city lights. If you find a place that's dark enough for you to see the Milky Way, you'll also see a lot more meteors and other celestial objects from there. A photograph of the Summer Triangle can be seen at http://www.allthesky.com/various/sumtri.html. Click on the photo to enlarge it. If you have trouble picking out the three brightest stars among all the others shown, click on "labels on/off" to identify them.

Moon phases

The moon will be at first quarter on April 5, full on April 12, at third quarter on April 21 and new on April 27.