Podcaster: Rob Webb
Title: Observing With Webb in April 2020
Organization: Physics teacher at Pequea Valley High School
Description: Three planets still hanging out in the early mornings, an early month unusual conjunction, and a meteor shower make this time of socially distancing ourselves a great time to get outside at night!
Bio: Rob Webb is a physics, astronomy, and sustainability teacher at Pequea Valley High School in Pennsylvania. His passions include teaching, astronomy, astrophotography, planetariums, running, reading, and golf. A proud graduate of Dickinson College in 2005, he also obtained a Master’s Degree in Science Education from Penn State University after conducting research in regards to the current state of planetariums in Pennsylvania. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Welcome to Observing With Webb, where a high school astronomy teacher tells you what you’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what you should check out later this month…at night.
First Quarter Moon – 1st (Visible until midnight)
Full Moon – 7th (Visible all night)
Last Quarter Moon – 14th (Visible from midnight into the morning)
New Moon – 22nd (darkest skies)
First Quarter Moon – 30th (Visible until midnight)
2nd – 4th – Conjunction – Venus & Pleiades – You won’t see anything like this again until 2028, and it’s super easy to find! Just get out after sunset, look West, find the brightest object in that direction, Venus, which is about halfway up the sky. You’ll be able to see the mini-mini-dipper shape of the Pleiades star cluster in the same spot. See how many of those stars you can see with your naked eye! The 3rd is when Venus is right in the cluster, below the handle, but on the 2nd and 4th it’s still close by. You’ll be looking at two objects of very differing size and age. One a planet about 4.5 billion years old, the other a cluster of stars about 10 light-years wide and “only” 100 million years old. This is the time for binoculars or cheap telescopes, as Venus is easier to find in them, and the detail in the Pleiades really comes out in this modest equipment.
14th – 17th – Close Encounter – Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn – Get out after 5:00am but before 6:00am DST each of these 4 mornings to enjoy, moving up and to the right, the lineup of Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter in the SSE, but also enjoy the Moon crashing through the party. The third-quarter Moon will be to the right of Jupiter on the 14th, right below Saturn on the 15th, about 4˚ down and to the left of Mars on the 16th, and, having turned more crescent, far to the left of all of them on the 17th.
22nd – LYRID METEOR SHOWER – It doesn’t get any better for observing the Lyrids this year! At only 10-20 meteors per hour, it is a minor shower, but we have a New Moon, so it won’t get drowned out by moonlight. So look North in general in the morning before dawn. The shower is greatest on the 22nd, but you might see some on the 21st and 22nd as well. Technically it peaks in the early morning hours, so getting up early is probably best, but it might be easiest to go out at night before bed. Just remember each meteor is piece of debris left over from a comet, and we’re crashing into it at over 100,000 miles per hour, which crushes the atmosphere it hits, heating it up and causing the bright flash.
Some advice for watching:
Find a dark location and lie down in a reclining chair or something that insulates you from the ground.
Check the weather to see if the skies will be clear
Adapt your eyes to the dark by staying away from light sources or using a red light if you need to look at a star chart or not trip over something.
Or find out if your local astronomy club or museum is holding a viewing party.20th
26th – Close Encounter – Moon, Venus – Get out after sunset and watch the Western sky. The Moon will be a young, thin crescent about three finger-widths from bright Venus. The Moon will also be nearby Venus on the days before and after.
- Venus (West) – We are just past maximum Venus, as it reached its highest height above the Western horizon last month, but we still have two good months left of the sunset planet. Just watch the sunset and look West. Venus will be the brightest light and first object you see off in that direction. Through binoculars or a telescope, you’ll be able to see the half-lit phase of Venus in the beginning of the month turn into a bigger crescent phase by the end of the month. Don’t forget about it running through the Pleiades in the first week!
Throughout the night – None
- Saturn, Jupiter, Mars – The main show in the mornings is the lineup of these three planets. Get out well before sunrise (6:47am down to 6:00am at the end of April) any morning, and start by finding the brightest spot in the SouthEast, which will be Jupiter. From here, you can find Saturn and Mars. Saturn will be the bright spot that is consistently less than a fist-width down and to the left of Jupiter all month. Mars has a different story, starting out right below Saturn, just after their conjunction, and then moves further and further left each day, approaching 20˚ or two fist-widths away from Saturn by the 30th.
Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.
Leo, Orion & his winter companions – Leo will be high in the South, almost straight above you. It has a backward question mark with a right triangle to the left of the question mark. Also, take a moment to get your last glimpse Orion, Taurus, the Pleiades, Gemini, Auriga, and Canis Major off in the West.
Big Dipper, Bootes – If you look above Leo, behind you and high in the sky, you should find the Big Dipper: seven very bright stars that form a spoon shape. Now if you take the handle of the Dipper, follow its curve to the next bright star you see, about 30˚ away, which is Arcturus. “Follow the arc to Arcturus.” That’s the brightest star in Bootes, which looks like a kite. Take that same curve, and follow it about another 20˚ to “speed on to Spica”, the brightest star in Virgo, one of my favorite constellations, since it reminds me of the Dickinson Mermaid.
Lyra, Hercules, Hercules Cluster – Look pretty much straight above you, and find the brightest star up there. You’ll notice a parallelogram attached to it. This is the brightest star Vega, part of the constellation Lyra, the harp. Next to that is a keystone shaped constellation called Hercules. On the right side of the keystone is a small cluster of stars known at the Hercules Cluster, which is a collection of hundreds of stars on the outskirts of our galaxy. Given how high it is in the sky right now, you might catch its faint fuzziness with your naked eye, but a set of binoculars or a small telescope will really help you see it.
Don’t forget this podcast is found on my Podbean page, Stitcher, and iTunes. There’s also a video version on my YouTube Channel and I can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @mrwebbpv. The Pequea Valley Planetarium and its events and updates are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as @pvplanetarium.
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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