January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Sky Events in April 2012

Posted: Monday, April 2nd, 2012

by Robert Victor

During the first week of April, Venus and the Pleiades star cluster (the Seven Sisters) appear in the same field of view of binoculars. The moon will appear close to Mars and the star Regulus on Monday and Tuesday evenings, April 2 and 3. On Friday, April 6 the moon, just past full, will appear close to the star Spica and the planet Saturn. After that, the moon rises later each night, and will return to the early evening sky in late April when it will appear as a crescent near Jupiter very low in the west-northwest at dusk on April 22, and near Venus on April 24. On April 30, the moon for the second time this month will appear near Mars and Regulus, and on May 3 and 4, the moon will appear near Saturn and Spica. The moon will be full on May 5. 

In late April, Venus attains greatest brilliance, bright enough to spot in a clear daytime sky, especially just before sunset. Approaching Earth, the planet grows large enough to reveal its thinning crescent phase when viewed through steadily held binoculars. On Tuesday June 5, Venus will pass directly in front of the sun and will appear in transit as a tiny black dot only 1/32 of the sun’s apparent diameter. After June 5, it’ll be more than a century until the next transit of Venus, on December 10, 2117. So don’t miss this one! But you must use a safe filter, such as a number 14 welder’s glass suitable for naked-eye viewing, or a solar filter.

Get your filter in time, and you can use it to observe the solar eclipse on Sunday, May 20. Or you can view a projected image of the eclipsed sun. One way to do this is to put together a “pinhole projector” made from a long cardboard box, a postcard with holes punctured by a ballpoint pen placed over a large hole cut out of one end of the box, and a sheet of white paper (to function as a screen) taped to the inside of the opposite end of the long box.

April’s events are illustrated on the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar, available at www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/skycalendar.

Five Spectacular Months for Planet-watching: April-August 2012

In April-August 2012, students, parents, and teachers can enjoy: The moon passing as many as four bright planets and five stars of first magnitude or brighter in the evening sky each month; Venus in crescent phases this spring, culminating with its rare transit across face of the sun on June 5; Mars in April, although faded some from its peak brilliance in early March, is still brighter and closer than it’ll be again until its next approach to Earth in April 2014; four bright planets Jupiter-Venus-Mars-Saturn visible simultaneously each evening during most of April; Saturn and the star Spica visible all night in mid-April and paired more closely in spring and summer 2012 than they’ll be again until 2041; a major solar eclipse before sunset on May 20; a partial lunar eclipse before dawn on June 4; and a compact rendezvous of Mars, Saturn, and Spica at dusk just after Curiosity lands on the Red Planet in August.

These items may help students visualize and enjoy these events:

The April 2012 Sky Calendar and evening sky map, now available at www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/skycalendar/.

A 48” x 36” poster depicting sky events during February through August 2012, a 24” x 24” poster of planetary orbits including a data table for plotting the planets during 2012-2013, and a problem set on predicting planetary visibility from Earth and seasonal visibility of stars are all available by scrolling down at www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/homeschool/index.html#poster.

The two posters without the problem set are available separately at www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/homeschool/celestialhighlights2012abrams.pdf and www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/SkyCalendar/OrbitCharts2012-2013.pdf.

A PowerPoint slide show of sky events during January through August 2012 is available at www.pa.msu.edu/abrams/celest12.html.

Details for California sky watchers of the May 20 solar eclipse and the June 5 transit of Venus with safe viewing methods will be provided in the May issue of California Classroom Science.

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs.

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.

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