April Astronomical Events

This month presents a host of exciting objects and events for us observers, ranging from Mars, Lunar Eclipses and the return of the ringed planet! As in my previous Astronomical Events posts, I am highlighting what’s to come throughout the month. Let’s get right into it!

For starters, we have the opposition of Mars coming up on April 8th, and should provide a spectacular show.  A few nights ago I was out with the 12.5″ Newtonian observing Mars. The best view was with a 7mm Galoc Ortho at 272x, showing off the Polar Ice Caps, intricate light and dark areas, and Orographic Clouds. These are of particular interest. Ever noticed that even on clear days from the city, you notice those clouds always surrounding mountains? The high altitude of the mountains creates what is called micro-climates, and the same effect can be seen on Mars, but on a much bigger scale.  Mars is home to the largest volcano in the Solar System, Olympus Mons.  Because it’s so large, it creates a micro-climate so large, the cloud systems produced can be seen even from Earth.

Image Credit: Anthony Wesley

Image Credit: Anthony Wesley

The image Mr. Wesley has made here is very similar to what I have been seeing in my 12.5″ telescope.  When the Orographic Clouds are near the edge of the planet (from our point of view), they can be sometimes mistaken for a polar cap.  Back when I was doing my first observations of Mars in 2012, I was often confused as to why I was seeing  a “3rd” Polar Cap. In the small 70mm aperture, the details are much less distinguishable than in the much large scopes I have today.

On the evening of the 14th-15th, there will be a Lunar Eclipse occuring. This will be the first one I have ever seen before, it will certainly be an exciting experience for me.  What’s also neat and unique about this is that even though the Opposition of Mars is on the 8th, technically we are closest to it on the same evening as the eclipse.  Mars’ brightness will appear the same as it did on the 8th.   Now the lunar eclipse has 2 main stages that it goes through, the partial eclipse, and the total. The total is certainly the climax of the event.  The Eclipse begins at 10:58 PM (PDT). This is the beginning of the partial  eclipse. The whole event will last a most of the night, fully ending at 2:33 AM.  The absolute best time peak of the event occurs at 12:46 AM, with the Full Moon turning an orange red color.  With the red moon and Mars, it will be spectacular!

This is a Sky Safari screenshot of the location of Mars and the Moon at the peak of the lunar eclipse.

This is a Sky Safari screenshot of the location of Mars and the Moon at the peak of the lunar eclipse.

The chief object are very similar to last month’s, but with a few additions.  M5, a globular cluster in Serpens is big and bright, and is right up there with M13, M3, and M22.  Later in the evening expect to see Scorpio rising, as well as Ophiuchus.  The nice globulars M10, M12, M107 reside in the western half, and faint M14 in the eastern part.  M4 is a bright globular right by Antares, very easy to find. Has an interesting bar shaped core. In a wide field eyepiece, try to spot NGC 6144,  just to the northeast or M4.  It can be seen from light polluted skies in a 6″ telescope.  M80 is another nice globular in Scorpio, similar to M92, but fainter. If you can stay out late enough, you might get glimpses of open clusters M6 and M7. M7 is one of my summer favorites.  Of course there is still plenty to see in the Coma-Virgo area, thousands of galaxies actually. There is certainly no shortage of objects this time of year!

Chart of the Scorpio area. Ophiuchus is to the left

Chart of the Scorpio area. Ophiuchus is to the left

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