Astronomy: The Week Ahead – Mon 20 Apr to Sat 25 Apr

This Wide Field Camera 3 image, dubbed "Mystic Mountain", was released in 2010 to commemorate Hubble's 20th anniversary in space.

This Wide Field Camera 3 image, dubbed “Mystic Mountain”, was released in 2010 to commemorate Hubble’s 20th anniversary in space.


Monday April 20

M22 is a huge globular cluster visible without optical aid in dark skies. It is a bright fuzzy patch in binoculars, and a grand sight in any telescope, although with an 8″ or larger, you will resolve hundreds of its stars. At 10,600 light years it is one of the nearest globulars. It is one of four globulars known to contain a planetary nebula.


Tuesday April 21

The realm of the galaxies is now rising in the east after sunset. You’ll find the area between Virgo’s bright star Spica, Denebola in Leo, and Arcturus in Bootes.

The heart of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster lies predominantly in and above the arc of stars higher in Virgo, above Porrima. If you learn to recognize Virgo’s shape, you’ll have many enjoyable observing sessions viewing dozens of galaxies in this area. In fact, they are so plentiful that you will find yourself not star hopping, but “galaxy hopping.”


Wednesday April 22

Return tonight to Virgo in the east. Use your telescope to look for the classic edge-on spiral galaxy M104. A good star-hop is to use nearby Corvus to cut diagonally across the sail shape, then beyond about half the same distance. Move the telescope up slightly at a right angle and look for a slash-type shape in the eyepiece. Add magnification to observe the dark lane and its small bright core.

M104 is part of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, about 28 million light years away. M104 is about one third the size of our Milky Way.


Thursday April 23

The Lyrid Meteor Shower reaches its climax tonight. The best time to watch is from midnight on.

The Lyrids are a remnant of Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1) in its 415-year orbit of our Sun. Without a Moon to brighten tonight’s sky during the meteor shower, prospects are good to see 10 to 20 meteors per hour.

Dress warm, have a thermos of hot chocolate, sit in a comfortable chair, and watch toward the radiant, shown here in the northeast, near Lyra’s bright star Vega.


Friday April 24

Mizar is a famous multiple-star system in the equally famous Big Dipper of Ursa Major, which is currently directly over our north star Polaris an hour after sunset.

Mizar and its brightest companion, Alcor, can be seen as a naked-eye pair. Native American tribes used the pair as an eye test, to distinguish who could be a hunter, with keen eyes, and who could not.

The system is actually a quadruple star. Mizar shines at magnitude 2.23, Alcor at 3.99, lying 83 light years away from Earth. They are a lovely sight in any telescope!


Saturday April 25

Tonight is the First Quarter Moon is in the constellation Cancer, and will be bright enough to overwhelm any of the constellations stars. It will form a very pretty pair with Jupiter, a bit higher up, also in Cancer. Lower toward the western horizon, Venus will be very bright. Mercury is just hidden behind the hills of the western horizon and will start popping up tomorrow. Watch for Mercury to pair with the Pleiades skimming the horizon on the evening of May 1.

Happy viewing!



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