By Larry Mahon
Agate Ridge Observatory
Spring has arrived and we see the bright winter constellations, CANIS MAJOR, ORION, TAURUS, and PERSEUS approaching the Western horizon. The great nebula of ORION will be gone until fall when it again rises in the east.
The constellation URSA MAJOR is directly overhead this time of the year and has many interesting objects to view. A bit of a challenge for a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars is the pair of galaxies M-81 and M-82.
They are ahead and above the lip of the Big Dipper. They are best viewed while reclining on a chaise lounge. The most direct way to locate them is to sweep in a diagonal line from the back bottom star to the star at the top lip of the bowl, then go an equal distance.
The galaxies are slightly north of that location. M-81 is a face-on galaxy and M-82 an edge-on galaxy.
On April 8, a thin Crescent Moon will be passing in front of the PLEIADES and several occultations will be visible from the Northeastern United States. The view from our location will be interesting although we will miss the occultations.
Northeast of ORION is the constellation GEMINI, which is past the meridian at sunset. The Planet MARS will be only 5 degrees south of POLLUX on April 28.
POLLUX is the head of the southern most twin in GEMINI. The planet is no longer of eye-catching brilliance as its orbit takes it further from the EARTH. On April 11, viewers in the Western States will be in position to see the six-day-old CRESCENT MOON slide past MARS; it will pass only 1/4 degree north of the planet.
SATURN is still the jewel of the night sky and higher in the early evening sky than it was during the eclipse last February. The tilt of the ring system increases to 9.9 degrees by the end of the month. This tilt will not be matched until December 2010.
If the atmospheric turbulence will allow high magnification the viewing will be better than last month.
A good target for early risers is JUPITER as it draws nearer to the EARTH. The planet reaches opposition next July. During April it brightens from -2.2 to -2.4 magnitude and swells in size to 41 seconds of arc. Daylight savings time helps early bird viewers; they get up an hour earlier in relation to the stars.
The LYRID METEOR SHOWER comes to maximum early in the morning of April 22, with the radiant near the bright star VEGA. With the FULL MOON occurring on the 19, it will be almost impossible to see any meteors because of the moon's glare.